WHO dampens hopes for Ebola vaccines

Microscopic view of the Ebola virus. WHO says waiting for the vaccine could slow down the fight to end the epidemic. PHOTO / COURTESY / GAVI

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked Uganda to focus on community mobilisation and prevention of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), warning that waiting for the vaccine could slow down the fight to end the epidemic. 

“Let us focus on the community response. These [candidate vaccines for Ebola Sudan] are studies, they are not the solution,” Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the WHO country representative said.  

He added: “These are studies which could give us the solution [but] the bigger solution is community mobilisation and the public health measures.” 

Dr Woldemariam was responding to a question asked by our reporter about the progress in coming up with vaccines for the Ebola Sudan strain which triggered the outbreak in Uganda last month.

According to the Health ministry, since the outbreak was declared on September 20, a total of 48 people have contracted the disease, 17 died and up to 14 have recovered from the deadly virus.

EVD kills between 25 percent and 90 percent of the infected persons, according to WHO, higher than the Covid-19 case fatality rate of around three percent. The high death rates are partly because of the lack of approved drugs for treatment and the lack of vaccines.  


Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director general of Health Services at the Health ministry, said discussions are ongoing on whether an approved vaccine for the Ebola Zaire strain can be used. 

“There are some people who are saying that the Merck vaccine for Ebola Zaire doesn’t protect us from Ebola Sudan. The outbreak we have here is caused by the Ebola Sudan strain. The scientists are still discussing and they will guide us on what to do,” he said. 

According to the Health ministry, EVD is transmitted through contact with an infected person’s blood, stool or body fluids. 

One can also contract the disease through contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as fruit bats and other wild animals. 

The known symptoms of Ebola include high body temperatures, fatigue, chest pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, unexplained bleeding, and yellowing of the eyes. According to the Health ministry, bleeding is usually a late presentation after the above symptoms. 

In an October 3 statement, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) said there are several candidate vaccines against the Sudan virus in development. 

“In addition to the Janssen vaccine, two other vaccines using chimpanzee adenoviruses as vectors have already undergone Phase 1 human trials to determine how much of the vaccine should be given in a dose, and to confirm that they trigger an immune response and are safe enough to be tested in larger numbers of volunteers,” the GAVI said.