Emergency vaccination campaign for yellow fever underway in Africa

Henrietta Brewer
August 31, 2016

"Considering that there is a very safe and effective vaccine against yellow fever, this campaign is an essential step to containing the spread of the outbreak", says MSF emergency coordinator Axelle Ronsse, adding, "vigilance will remain crucial in the coming months".

So far, there have been almost 4,000 suspected cases of yellow fever in Angola and more than 2,200 in DRC, with around 400 reported deaths.

But vaccine supplies are limited.

"It has got us incredibly anxious".

There are only seven million emergency vaccinations now available for the mass inoculation.

Medical authorities have described this latest outbreak as the largest in decades and they fear that the outbreak may go global. It may not be as fatal as Ebola but its consequences can be dire.

Once infected, victims experience fever and muscle pain. Some people recover within a few days but a minority become severely ill, suffering organ failure, bleeding from the eyes and death.

The surprising and sudden reporting of yellow fever cases raises alarm about the long term threats of yellow fever.

Vaccination campaigns on this scale bring with them numerous logistical challenges, including ensuring that the vaccines are kept at the correct temperature.

"What does it tell us?" Even if we have the best surveillance systems and tools, we still need the political will to act at local level, regional level and global level.

In order to protect as many people as possible before the start of the rainy season in September, the World Health Organization is using factional dosing - giving people just enough of the vaccine to protect them for at least 12 months, but likely longer - in order to stretch the existing supply as far as possible. So no vaccines have really disappeared. "Since January, more than 27 million doses have been deployed from this stockpile to Angola and DRC".

"There is no known cure for yellow fever and it could go global", Save the Children's president Patricia Erb said in a release. But it did not check the spread.

Save The Children has dispatched a rapid response unit of experts to DRC to assist with an emergency vaccination programme.

Yellow fever usually occurs in remote rural areas where people are routinely vaccinated against the disease.

"Kinshasa is such a huge city". Time is running out to check the spread, however, because the rains will begin in September.

He said World Health Organization is deploying epidemiologists at border crossings between the DRC and the Republic of Congo.

The health ministry scheduled the vaccination campaign to begin Wednesday, focusing first on the capital province of Kinshasa and border areas with Angola.

What are some of your expectations for this massive vaccination campaign? The diluted doses provide a stopgap immunity of about one year, as opposed to a lifetime immunity from a full dose.

How many people are sick?

But a limited number of companies make the vaccines, and the spread of the epidemic has far outstripped the supply.

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