Confusion around an unlicensed Ebola vaccine being used in the Democratic Republic of Congo is complicating efforts to rein in an outbreak of the deadly virus, Doctors Without Borders warned Thursday.
DRC health officials launched a small, targeted vaccination campaign this week to help rein in the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, which so far has claimed 27 lives.
The campaign, using an unlicenced vaccine, is beginning with first responders, and will soon move to anyone who has been in contact with suspected cases, and then on to the contacts of the contacts.
WHO said Wednesday that some 10,000 people should be vaccinated within the next month.
But Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, cautioned that, among many people on the ground, there was confusion and uncertainty about the vaccine and who could receive the jab.
“The messaging around the vaccine has not been well done,” Jean-Clement Cabrol, MSF’s emergency medical coordinator, told reporters in Geneva following his latest trip to the affected region.
He cautioned against the widespread description of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine as “experimental”.
“I think that using words like ‘experimental vaccination’ does not simplify things,” he said.
The vaccine has been deemed highly effective and safe by WHO, but has not yet received a licence.
“A large portion of the population does not understand this illness (and) thinks it is witchcraft” or something similar, he said, adding that there had been threats against doctors and others coming in to care for the sick, and who were accused of bringing the virus with them.
Cabrol stressed that rVSV-ZEBOV was meant “only as an additional tool” in responding to the outbreak.
The main focus, he said, still needed to be on informing people how to protect themselves and others against Ebola, and on tracking and isolating Ebola cases, and finding all of their contacts and contacts of contacts.