Uganda will begin administering the experimental Ebola vaccine to approximately 2,000 health care and front-line workers along its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday, the Ministry of Health said.
Uganda has no confirmed cases of Ebola, but as the threat worsens in the DRC, the preventive measure is seen as necessary because of heavy border traffic. More than 20,000 people cross from the DRC into Uganda and back every week, the ministry says.
"The public high risk of cross-border transmission of Ebola to Uganda was assessed to be very high at national level," said Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda's minister for health. "Hence, the need to protect our health workers with this vaccine. Currently in Uganda, we have 2,100 doses of the vaccine available at the National Medical Stores and preparations are in high gear, including training of the health workers that are to be targeted."
Many of those crossing the border are from the DRC's North Kivu province, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Ugandan border, where armed conflict has made fighting the Ebola outbreak a challenge.
The vaccine, known as rVSV, has been used during recent outbreaks in Congo, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and is currently being dispensed in North Kivu.
Uganda's Health Ministry says the Ebola vaccine will be given with the consent of Uganda's health workers, since it is being used outside of clinical trials.
Despite being experimental, the vaccine is absolutely safe, Aceng says.
"The vaccine is a recombinant vaccine genetically developed by getting a particle of the Ebola gene, replacing a particle of the gene with another virus called the vesicular stomatitis virus. The vaccine therefore is a genetically modified organism, that is able to replicate and cause antibody production against the Ebola virus but not cause Ebola virus disease," she explained.
The Ebola virus causes a severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed 250 cases of Ebola — causing 180 deaths — and another 41 suspected cases.