The World Health Organization (WHO) is changing its strategy to curtail an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has killed more than 1,000 people.
It announced on Tuesday that it will focus on offering smaller doses to as many people as possible, the New York Times reports. And it plans to later introduce a second vaccine.
This move is a shift from its current strategy of “ring vaccinating,” in which anyone who has come into contact with an infected person is inoculated. And it may solve a big issue: That infected people are afraid they’ll be attacked if they travel to a clinic to be treated.
The Associated Press reports that rebel groups have killed or injured 85 health care workers in the first five months of 2019. As a result, relief organizations have left some of the most devastated areas.
“Every time we have managed to regain control over the virus and contain its spread, we have suffered major, major security events,” Michael Ryan, WHO’s health emergencies chief, told reporters earlier this year. “We are anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission” of the disease, he explained.
To prevent attacks, the WHO also plans to launch “pop-up” immunization centers in safer communities, which will eliminate the risk of traveling to treatment centers under siege.
Before the new guidelines can be adopted, they must be accepted by the Congolese government. The head of Congo’s ethical review board, Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, signaled that won’t be an issue, as demand for the vaccine is steadily rising, especially in the affected districts of Eastern Congo.
The WHO says more than 11,000 have been vaccinated against Ebola since the outbreak started last August. It began offering half doses to stretch the supply, which a 2015 trial in Guinea found to be be effective.
The new dose is 20% of the original, which medical experts believe will still work — although they warn it may take longer to build up immunity.