Monday Program – Week in Review #2

After the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo began in August of last year, hundreds of pregnant women have found themselves vulnerable to the disease that has claimed over 1400 lives thus far. This has become the second largest outbreak ever recorded, leading to the British government voluntarily conducting studies to find the best vaccination options before the disease continues to spread to more people. Luckily, research advancements continue to be made, with data showing that those who have volunteered to use the test vaccines have developed strong responses against the virus within three years. One of the study’s main authors, Katie Ewer of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, explained that “What we’re trying to do with this study is understand how often we need to go and vaccinate these people. So by sharing that we have good persistence of immunity at two or three years, we know that the vaccine lasts at least that long, and we won’t have to get back and reboost them.” 

Ewer, along with many other scientists studying the Ebola outbreak understands that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is prone to a high volume of infections within a short period of time. She believes that “it would be great to go and vaccinate everybody who’s a health care worker…before an outbreak happens rather than using it reactively like we’re doing now.” Rather than scientists giving one dose of the vaccine to each patient, they are beginning to re-vaccinate people a year or two after their original dosage, in hopes that it will strengthen their patients’ bodies even further to prevent future Ebola infections from occurring. Since May of this year, over 126,000 individuals have received vaccination treatment thanks to the efforts of frontline health workers working all over the DRC. 

Despite the considerable progress, Ebola is affecting pregnant women at a very dangerous rate. The mortality rate amongst pregnant women is 93% which is 43% higher than for an average individual. Those who believe that this issue needs more attention have gotten a hold of the World Health Organization, who finally allowed pregnant women to receive vaccinations this past February, after months of these women being told ‘no’, as “pregnant and lactating women had been excluded from receiving the vaccine because it contains a live virus”, reports the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). “You tell us to protect yourself with the vaccine, and then you tell us we cannot get the vaccine. So we have nothing left” stated one pregnant Congolese woman in October of 2018. Frustratingly, complications created delays which postponed vaccinating the first pregnant woman until June 13, nearly four months after pregnant women were approved to receive the vaccination, and over 10 months after the outbreak had originally began. Despite these delays, significant advancements continue to be made that will help these pregnant women during this vulnerable time. Due to the increased attention that has been brought to this terrible epidemic, scientists from all over the world are doing what they can to suppress this dangerous infection. 

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