The International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision, which includes the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) all came together to help launch the project. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is providing financial support.
Low- and lower-middle-income countries will be able to access the stockpile free of charge, Gavi said, and will also get support for the operational costs of rolling out an immunization programme.
“By creating a stockpile of 500,000 doses of the Ebola vaccine, available to all countries, we can help prevent loss of life and swiftly end Ebola outbreaks in the future,” said Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley.
A public-private partnership, the Geneva-based Gavi helps vaccinate half the world’s children against some of the deadliest diseases on the planet.
Along with the World Health Organization, it is co-leading efforts to procure and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to 20 percent of the population in each country by the end of the year.
The doses will be stored in Basel, Switzerland.
More than 300,000 people were vaccinated during outbreaks of the deadly virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which helped bring the two-year crisis to a halt in June 2020.
The vaccine, which is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization for use in Ebola outbreaks as part of a broader set of Ebola outbreak response tools, protects against the Zaire ebolavirus species which is most commonly known to cause outbreaks.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is reminding us of the incredible power of vaccines to save lives from deadly viruses,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable. This new stockpile is an excellent example of solidarity, science and cooperation between international organizations and the private sector to save lives.”
The decision to allocate the vaccine will be made within 48 hours of receiving a request from a country; vaccines will be made available together with ultra-cold chain packaging by the manufacturer for shipment to countries within 48 hours of the decision. The targeted overall delivery time from the stockpile to countries is seven days.
The Ebola vaccine stockpile will include licensed doses manufactured by US pharmaceutical multinational Merck, which has pre-qualification status from the WHO, plus approval from the US and European regulators.
Those deliveries are being funded with $20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Depending on the rate of vaccine deployment, it could take 2 to 3 years to reach the SAGE-recommended level of 500,000 doses for the emergency stockpile of Ebola vaccines.
But WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and vaccine manufacturers said they are continuously assessing options to increase vaccine supply should global demand increase.
Besides the Merck doses, other potential Ebola vaccines in the pipeline could eventually be included in the stockpile, subject to WHO pre-qualification.
Development of the Ebola vaccine was sped up following the worst-ever epidemic, which started in December 2013 in Guinea and spread to West African neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The outbreak claimed more than 11,300 lives from nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to the WHO, which declared the epidemic over in March 2016.
The average fatality rate from Ebola is around 50 percent but this can rise to 90 percent for some epidemics, says the WHO.
In November, DR Congo declared the end of its latest Ebola outbreak, which claimed 55 lives in nearly six months in Equateur province.
Vaccines were administered to more than 40,000 people, helping to curb that epidemic.