What next after the arrival of 1,200 Ebola trial vaccines?

Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng addresses journalists after receiving 1,200 doses of Ebola trial vaccines at National Medical Stores (NMS) offices in Entebbe, Wakiso District on December 8, 2022. Looking on are some some officials from her ministry and World Health Organisation.  PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

The government yesterday received a total of 1,200 doses of an Ebola trial vaccines, nine days after the last Ebola case was confirmed in the country.

However, the health officials said there are certain processes that will need to be followed before, during and after administering the vaccines.

Addressing journalists at the National Medical Stores (NMS) offices in Entebbe, Wakiso District yesterday, Dr Charles Njuguna, the health emergencies team leader at the WHO Uganda country office, said the vaccines are from Sabin Vaccine Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting global vaccine development (in the United States).

“These will be administered to those at the greatest risk including immediate contacts of a person who has been diagnosed with the [Ebola] Sudan disease,” Dr Njuguna said.

He added: “It should be noted that the participation in this trial is voluntary and free.”

Dr Njuguna said the country does not have an approved and licenced vaccine yet.

“So what we have here today [yesterday] are vaccine candidates that are going to be used for research purposes and these have been developed and tested in preliminary studies to determine their efficiency and safety,” he said.

Ms Joanitah Nalunjogi, a trial manager at the Makerere University Lung Institute, said clinical trials will be conducted in six stages including identifying the patients and their respective contacts.

“A decision will then be made on whether the individual should be given the vaccine immediately or 21 days later,” Ms Nalunjogi said.

She added: “Depending on when one is vaccinated, a follow-up will be made including observing the participants [who would have consented to the vaccination] for 30 minutes to see whether they have adverse reactions to the vaccine or allow them go back home or quarantine centres as per government’s recommendations.”

The vaccinated participants will then be followed from time to time.

Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng, said despite not registering new Ebola cases in the last few days, the public should remain vigilant.

“Right now we are still in a response mode and will remain in this [way] until after 42 days. If WHO (World Health Organisation) feels we are safe, then, we shall have a declaration [that we are Ebola-free] on January 11, 2023,” she said.

“It does not mean that we are going to tell the population that they can do whatever they want to do. We shall rather continue with intense surveillance for another 90 days,” Ms Aceng added.

She said more doses are expected later on but did not specify how many more are expected and when they will arrive in the country.

According to the ministry, at least 142 people were confirmed to have Ebola. Of these 55 succumbed to the disease. At least 87 patients recovered from the disease. The authorities managed to trace more than 3,800 contacts in different parts of the country.

Will the vaccine work?

Dr Bruce Kirenga, the chief research scientist and founding director of the Makerere University Lung Institute, said: “We believe the vaccines will be effective because of the early clinical trials but also the backbone in these vaccines is the same as the other vaccines that have been used on other species of Ebola.”

He added: “If we were not convinced, we would not touch them and would send it back to the laboratory. We work alongside Ethics Committees and Scientific advisors to look at [the processes involved.”

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