Nov. 13 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization has approved the world's first Ebola vaccine amid history's second largest outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
WHO prequalified the inoculation Tuesday, which means it meets the agency's standards for quality and safety, and it can now be made available in at-risk countries. The step came less than 48 hours after the European Commission grated a conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine.
"This is a historic step towards ensuring the people who most need it are able to access this life-saving vaccine," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. "Five years ago, we had no vaccine and no therapeutics for Ebola. With a prequalified vaccine and experimental therapeutics, Ebola is now preventable and treatable."
The vaccine, called Ervebo, is manufactured by Merck. It and another vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, were already being used under a compassionate use protocol. Ervebo is now approved for clinical use.
WHO said it accelerated the prequalification process for the vaccine because of the "urgent public health need," particularly in Africa. The DRC's current epidemic began Aug. 1, 2018, and has caused 2,192 deaths and sickened 1,067 others as of Wednesday, the DRC Ministry of Health said.
Formerly known as hemorrhagic fever, the Ebola virus is transmitted from wild animals to humans, and then is spread among humans during contact with bodily fluids. The average mortality rate of the disease is 50 percent.
Ebola virus symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting diarrhea, rash, and internal and external bleeding.