Janssen, part of the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson will be providing up to 500,000 doses of their experimental Ebola vaccine to help combat the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to a statement released Thursday.
The current outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people and has infected more than 3,000, making it the worst outbreak the DRC has ever seen and the second-deadliest Ebola epidemic ever.
At Global Citizen Festival in Hamburg in 2017, Johnson & Johnson pledged to maintain a global stockpile of their candidate Ebola vaccine, which could be deployed in the event of a public health crisis.
The introduction of this second vaccine was recommended by the World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization in May 2019 to complement ongoing use of another investigational vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, made by Merck Pharmaceuticals.
The Merck vaccine is being used in a ring vaccination strategy targeting contacts of those with Ebola virus disease and other health and frontline workers at high risk. It has been administered to more than 200,000 people, and has helped contain the virus.
But the need for more help became apparent in recent months as the WHO declared the outbreak was officially a global health emergency in July.
That is why the DRC government, in collaboration with several global health organizations, decided to add a second vaccine, developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, to their outbreak response efforts.
“The fact that we’re in a position to help the people of the DRC protect their communities from such a serious threat — just a few years after we pledged to accelerate vaccine development efforts — is a testament to both the ingenuity of Janssen’s scientists, and the power of close collaboration between partners committed to working for the greater good of all,” Alex Gorsky, chairman and chief executive officer for Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement.
The partners on the immunization initiative are now working with the company to schedule shipment of the first batches of the vaccine to the areas where they are most needed. The doses will come from the global stockpile that Johnson & Johnson has maintained since making its pledge at the Global Citizen Festival in Hamburg over two years ago.
So far, over 6,500 people have participated in over 10 clinical trials for the vaccine, which found that the vaccine is well tolerated and produces a robust immune system response.
This marks the first time the vaccine will be deployed on a large scale to help contain a serious Ebola outbreak. The DRC epidemic has been especially difficult to tackle due to an ongoing conflict in one of the affected areas, which has made it hard for health workers to reach at-risk populations.
“No single entity can solve this outbreak which has continued for more than a year,” Paul Stoffels, vice chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer for Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement. “The global health community has come together in support of this initiative using Janssen’s investigational Ebola vaccine regimen to help prevent its further spread. This collaboration is essential, and a great demonstration of how the public and private sectors can work together to help tackle a public health crisis.”