Sierra Leone + 1 more

Ebola vaccine booster doses underway in Sierra Leone

Ebola booster dose vaccination kicks off in Sierra Leone following administration of the prime dose of the Johnson & Johnson Ebola vaccine in May this year. Frontline health workers, practitioners of traditional medicines or traditional healers and commercial motor bike riders who received the first dose are now being given their second jab to maximize their protection against the disease. The target beneficiaries were identified as high-risk groups and selected for preventive vaccination to protect them in the event there was a cross border transmission of the disease which had re-emerged in Guinea in February 2021.

Guineans and Sierra Leoneans have close social and economic ties and the two countries share long borders with several informal crossing points including along the area in Guinea where the February 2021 outbreak occurred.

During this period, 8,583 people that had been vaccinated with the first dose would receive their second dose of the vaccine as the full regimen. In addition, health workers who had not been vaccinated with the first dose of the Ebola vaccine, because of the exigency for their second COVID-19 vaccine dose, will now have the chance to be vaccinated with the first dose Ebola vaccine and then wait for their second dose six weeks later. The Johnson & Johnson Ebola vaccine is administered in an individual who had been vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine if four weeks has passed.

Administration of the second dose of this preventive Ebola vaccination is happening at a time when several highly infectious Viral Haemorrhagic Fever outbreaks are confirmed in two countries in the sub-region. On 9 August, Guinea reported a confirmed case of Marburg - an infectious disease with similar causes and risk factors as Ebola, making it the first ever Marburg case in West Africa and was reported from the same location in Guinea where the 2014 and 2021 Ebola outbreaks were confirmed. Meanwhile, on 14 August, one case of Ebola was confirmed in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire after an individual that travelled from Guinea presented at a health facility in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast.

“With the recent resurgence of the Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea and in Côte d'Ivoire, there is a high risk of outbreaks in Sierra Leone and other neighbouring countries because of the movement of people across borders and other ecological factors. Sustained preventive interventions therefore remain critically important”, said Dr Steven V. Shongwe, the World Health Organization Representative in Sierra Leone. “Efforts by the government to protect health workers and other high-risk groups are highly commendable and we will continue to support the government’s preparedness and readiness interventions to ensure that the system remains vigilant and fully function to prevent, detect and respond to any public health events early and robustly”.

The World Health Organization is providing technical and operational support to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to continue intensified public health surveillance, partner coordination, risk communications and community engagement on EVD and Marburg at all levels. National level teams have been empowered to support the districts and community level structures to improve prevention and early detection of cases.

An estimated 16,127 beneficiaries including health workers, and high-risk groups in border communities and the major referral public and private hospitals are being prioritised for this preventive vaccination. For this booster dose, the Modified Vaccinia of Ankara-Bivarian Nordic Filo donated by Johnson & Johnson in collaboration with the World Health Organization is being used. The vaccine is safe and efficient to protect against both Ebola and Marburg viral haemorrhagic fevers.

The World Health Organization Country Office is providing technical, logistical and operational support to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to facilitate smooth implementation of the preventive Ebola vaccination whiles also supporting the country’s fight against the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.