The Democratic Republic of Congo has kicked off Ebola vaccinations to stem an outbreak in the northwest city of Mbandaka, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
Two people are known to have died so far in the city of over one million inhabitants where people live in close proximity to road, water and air links to the capital Kinshasa. The first death occurred on April 21 and the second on Tuesday, marking the central African country’s 14th Ebola outbreak.
Around 200 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine have been shipped to Mbandaka from the eastern city of Goma, with more to be delivered in coming days. So far 233 contacts have been identified and are being monitored, the WHO said in a statement.
Three vaccination teams are on the ground and will focus on reaching all people at high risk. “With effective vaccines at hand and the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo health workers in Ebola response, we can quickly change the course of this outbreak for the better,” WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti said in the statement.
Congo’s equatorial forests are a natural reservoir for the Ebola virus, which was discovered near the Ebola River in northern Congo in 1976. The country has seen 13 previous Ebola outbreaks, including one in 2018-2020 in the east that killed nearly 2,300 people, the second highest toll recorded in the history of the hemorrhagic fever.
The most recent ended in December in the east and caused six deaths. Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province, has also contended with outbreaks in 2018 and in 2020. Genetic testing has shown that the current outbreak was a new “spillover event”, meaning it was transmitted from infected animals rather than linked to previous events.