Today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced its plans to include pregnant and lactating women in the current Ebola vaccine protocol. The World Health Organization's (WHO's) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization endorsed this action.
"Noting that these experimental vaccines are non-replicating or replication deficient, pregnant and lactating women should be included into the clinical trial protocol.The protocol must include provisions for safety monitoring and for documentation of EVD cases among vaccinees, including follow-up of pregnant women and their offspring," SAGE said today in its interim recommendations on vaccinations against Ebola.
Currently Merck's unlicensed rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine has been used on 81,702 people in the DRC and surrounding countries in a ring vaccination campaign targeting case contacts and healthcare workers, the DRC said in an update today.
According to SAGE, as of Feb 13, 57% of the confirmed and probable cases are females of which 61% (35% of total cases) are of childbearing age (15 to 49 years).
Pregnant and lactating women have been excluded from receiving the vaccine because it contains a live virus, but experts and working groups have publicly argued that including pregnant women in the vaccination program will help stop the spread of the deadly disease.
"The DRC's decision to extend Ebola vaccine coverage to pregnant women is a huge step forward, not only for pregnant women in areas affected by outbreaks but for all pregnant women who may face the threat of Ebola in the future," Carleigh Krubiner, PhD, a fellow at the Center for Global Development and a member of a working group that argued for the inclusion of pregnant women in the ring vaccine campaign, said in a statement emailed to journalists.
Krubiner added that including pregnant and lactating women "will also provide a critical opportunity to advance the evidence base on the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine so that decisionmakers in the future will be able to make informed decisions about how best to protect their populations, including pregnant women, in the event of an outbreak."
Three new cases, 1 new death
The DRC health ministry, in its daily update today, confirmed three new Ebola cases, two in Katwa and one in Butembo. Both cities are current hot spots for Ebola activity.
DRC officials also recorded a new fatality at an Ebola treatment center in Katwa.
The new cases raise the outbreak total to 848, including 529 deaths. Authorities are still investigating 213 suspected cases
Feb 20 WHO SAGE recommendations
Feb 20 DRC update
Dec 6, 2018, CIDRAP News story "Guidance seeks to increase outbreak vaccines in pregnant women"