Ebola's spread in Congo could threaten vaccine supplies, WHO says

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola outbreak is creeping southward toward several major cities, which could threaten supplies of the experimental Ebola vaccine health workers are using to contain the outbreak, reports STAT.

Here are four things to know:

1. Merck, which manufactures the vaccine, has committed to maintaining a global stockpile of 300,000 vaccine doses. As of Dec. 2, the Congo has already used more than 42,000 doses this year.

"We are extremely concerned about the size of the vaccine stockpile," Dr. Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, told STAT. "And we're regularly in touch with Merck to discuss what can be done about that."

2. Making the Ebola vaccine is a yearlong process, and the company spends four to five months alone converting the bulk product into vials, a Merck spokesperson told STAT.

3. Health workers are using the vaccine to prevent further disease transmission by vaccinating contacts of known Ebola patients and individuals exposed to those contacts. Dr. Salama said virus transmission appears to be slowing in Beni, the current epicenter of the outbreak. However, if the virus spreads south to cities like Butembo and Goma, the WHO may run out of vaccines to support this outbreak response strategy.

"When you consider that the global … stockpile is 300,000 doses and Beni itself has a population of 400,000 and Butembo a million, you can imagine that when people are proposing large-scale geographical vaccination, that becomes extremely impractical," Dr. Salama told STAT.

4. This outbreak is now Congo's second largest, with the WHO reporting 440 cases and 225 deaths as of Dec. 1.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:

UV disinfection linked to lower C. diff rates
Bedside flu diagnosis in pediatric ED reduced antibiotic treatment by 70%
Outpatients for influenzalike illness above national baseline: 5 things to know


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