Aug 18, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

Congo Says No to Johnson & Johnson's Experimental Vaccine

Jul 19, 2019 08:20 AM EDT

Phase 2 Ebola vaccine trial
(Photo: NIAID)
Study volunteer receives inoculation at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia on the opening day in Liberia of PREVAC, a Phase 2 Ebola vaccine trial in West Africa. (NIAID)

Johnson & Johnson pushes their new experimental vaccine in the effort to stop the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, DRC's health minister has disapproved the use of the pharmaceutical giant's new trial vaccine. 

The outbreak has been going on for nearly a year now with about 2,500 people infected. The number of deaths has risen to about 1,670.

Dr. Oly Ilunga, DRC's health minister, has initially permitted J&J to conduct a clinical trial outside the outbreak zone, as Merck is already servicing the outbreak zone with their experimental vaccine. However, the health minister has recently rescinded this decision.

Dr. Ilunga's decision was moved by the ongoing debates and controversy on the topic of vaccination, to which the doctor stated that focus should be given to the already "effective weapon" that they currently have. DRC's health minister expressed his distaste of unethical practices, especially for entities that refuse to discuss their plans with the government.

On the other hand, Dr. Josie Golding, Wellcome Trust's epidemics lead, is in favor of deploying and testing the second experimental vaccine from J&J. Golding added that many lives depend on the possible success of the said vaccine.

Other personalities including Peter Piot, dean for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, have expressed their hopes of reconsideration about the recent announcement against the pharmaceutical giant. The J&J vaccine is proposed for use as a firewall on the areas near the outbreak zone as the said vaccine was made to prevent Ebola and not to stop it.

Even so, DRC's health minister remains unswayed and is not open to starting a new discussion regarding the topic. 

Dr. Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer and the main driver of the Ebola vaccine effort from J&J, stated that they respect DRC's decision but are prepared to deploy if their test product is reconsidered.

As of the moment, Merck is processing the approval for their Ebola vaccine, possibly listing their vaccine as the first licensed Ebola vaccine in the western countries. The other countries with licensed vaccines to combat Ebola are China and Russia. However, their products were issued licenses without data to support its effectiveness.

In 2014 to 2016, the Merck vaccine has been tested during an outbreak in Guinea, which was able to generate results. The said previous outbreak has ended before the effectiveness was determined for the other vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO) has authorized the use of the Merck vaccine for Ebola outbreaks until such time that a vaccine is licensed.

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