Vaccine shortage could spread yellow fever
NEW YORK — A deadly yellow fever epidemic that has afflicted southern and central Africa this year could soon spread worldwide, exacerbated by a severe vaccine shortage, the charity Save the Children warned on Tuesday.
The organization issued the warning a day before the beginning of a mass vaccination campaign it is helping to administer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, starting with the capital, Kinshasa, where about 10 million people are at risk.
Because of the vaccine shortage, just seven million emergency doses are available for the campaign, Save the Children said in its statement: “too few to even fully cover Kinshasa, let alone the whole of the DRC.”
As an emergency measure, on the advice of the World Health Organization, the doses will be severely diluted to treat five people instead of one, Save the Children said. The diluted doses provide a stopgap immunity of about one year, as opposed to lifetime immunity from a full dose.
“We’ve got to urgently reach as many children and families as we can with the supplies that are left, and this is the only way we are able to do that right now,” Heather Kerr, the Save the Children director for the Democratic Republic of Congo, said in the statement. “We can only hope this will be enough to stop the epidemic from spreading any further.”
Ms Kerr added that it was critical to start the campaign “so that we can try and stop yellow fever spreading by land and air to more cities in Africa and across the world.”
Yellow fever, a hemorrhagic virus spread by the same type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus, has killed nearly 500 people in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo since December. It is the largest outbreak to hit the region in 30 years.
Unlike the deadly Ebola virus, which ravaged West Africa in 2014 and 2015, yellow fever is not highly contagious and can be prevented with vaccines that were developed decades ago. But a limited number of companies make the vaccines, and the spread of the epidemic has far outstripped the supply.the Associated Press reported this month that the vaccine shortage had been worsened by the mysterious disappearance of a million doses shipped to Angola in February.
Once infected, victims experi- ence fever and muscle pain. While many recover, others can suffer jaundice, internal bleeding, delirium and death. The World Health Organization has calculated that the mortality rate for people who develop the more severe symptoms is as high as 50 percent.
— NY Times
Residents of the Kisenso district of Kinshasa, democratic Republic of Congo, received yellow fever vaccinations last month.