KINSHASA Democratic Republic of Congo's health ministry has approved the use of a new Ebola vaccine to counter an outbreak in its northeast that has killed four people, a spokesman said on Monday.
"The non-objection was given. Now there's a Medecins Sans Frontieres team that is arriving (in Congo) today to validate the protocol with the technical teams," Jonathan Simba, a health ministry spokesman, said by telephone.
The vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV and developed by Merck, is not yet licensed but was shown to be highly protective against Ebola in clinical trials published last December. [nL5N1EG4IP]
As of Friday, Congo had registered 52 total suspected cases, including two that have been confirmed, the World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman in Congo, Eugene Kabambi, said by telephone, adding that the situation appeared to be under control.
Simba said that the details of the vaccination campaign would be announced after a meeting of the health ministry and its partners.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva that vaccination would be deployed "should an EVD (Ebola virus disease) laboratory confirmed case be identified outside already defined chains of transmission".
In that case, it would be offered "to contacts and contacts of contacts of a confirmed EVD case, including health care workers and field laboratory Workers", Jasarevic said.
A vaccination campaign would present logistical challenges in Congo's isolated northeastern forests, including transporting and storing the vaccine in special containers at the required minus 80 degrees Celsius.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Tim Cocks and Andrew Bolton)