New Delhi: Charity alliance Gavi said that it would create a stockpile of 500,000 Ebola vaccines that low-income countries will be able to access for free as they attempt to battle outbreaks of the deadly virus.
"This is a historic milestone in humanity's fight against this horrific disease," Gavi chairwoman Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement announcing the $178 million funding for the stockpile, which will be disbursed between now and 2025.
The stockpiling would start with rVSV-ZEBOV, which is manufactured by the US laboratory Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and was licensed by the European Commission last month.
"Any of the vaccine manufacturers are free to approach us. For a stockpile, that would only be licensed and WHO (World health Organization) pre-qualified vaccines," Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley told reporters in a dial-in press conference after a two-day meeting of the alliance's board in New Delhi.
"At the moment only Merck has met those two criteria. And if J&J (Johnson & Johnson's anti-Ebola vaccine) was to meet those criteria as well, we would consider those vaccines as well."
The alliance said it would also support preventive vaccination among high-risk populations, such as health workers.
The WHO prequalification programme is meant to cut costs by setting a minimum quality standard for cheaper drugs that could then be used by developing countries.
Seventy-three nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is fighting an epidemic of Ebola in the east of the country, India and Indonesia will be able to access the stockpile for free.
The DRC has used two new vaccines -- rVSV-ZEBOV and J&J's drug -- to help contain the virus that has killed more than 2,000 people since in August 2018.
The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.
The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90% in some outbreaks, according to the WHO. - Agencies
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