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Johnson & Johnson Giving 500,000 Ebola Shots in Congo Test

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/31/2019 John Lauerman
a group of people standing in front of a truck: A United Nations peacekeeper has his shoes cleaned with a chlorine solution before leaving an Ebola treatment centre in Mangina, North Kivu province, on September 1, 2019. © AFP via Getty Images A United Nations peacekeeper has his shoes cleaned with a chlorine solution before leaving an Ebola treatment centre in Mangina, North Kivu province, on September 1, 2019.

(Bloomberg) --

Johnson & Johnson will donate as many as half a million doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine for a trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 2,000 people have died in the latest outbreak.

The vaccine will be studied in areas outside the “hot zone” where cases are spreading most quickly, J&J research chief Paul Stoffels said. The aim is to show whether it grants lasting immunity against a disease that perennially crops up because of human contact with infected animals.

The decision by Congolese health officials to use the vaccine ends months during which J&J’s preventive sat on shelves. Some health experts had raised concerns that introducing J&J’s two-shot vaccine alongside a single-shot product already in use would create confusion and distrust in communities beset by the virus.

The reason for using the second vaccine “has been very well communicated,” Stoffels said. “It also will be used in separate areas” where the one-shot vaccine, from Merck & Co., isn’t used.

Congo’s former health minister, who had resisted using J&J’s vaccine, resigned in July as efforts to slow the epidemic foundered. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a longtime Ebola researcher whose work contributed to the development of new therapies, was then put in charge of controlling the outbreak and has embraced the use of the second vaccine.

The country plans to use J&J’s vaccine in Goma, a border city and trading hub with neighboring Rwanda, according to a statement. The vaccine will be provided beginning in November.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in July.

Discovered in 1976, Ebola virus can cause severe bleeding and is transmitted when people come in contact with infected bodily fluids. The virus is thought to move throughout Africa in populations of infected bats, which may pass it on to other animals and humans.

J&J’s two-part vaccination was designed to confer long-term immunity against Ebola and prepare communities for sporadic eruptions of disease, Stoffels said. The deadliest outbreak on record occurred from 2014 to 2016 in West Africa, killing more than 11,000 people.

“The disease is traveling where the bats are traveling,” Stoffels said. “It will come back.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in London at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Eric Pfanner at epfanner1@bloomberg.net

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