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Expand chart
Data: DRC Ministry of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon, Harry Stevens/Axios

The Ebola vaccine — which appears to have an effectiveness of more than 97% when given 10 days before infection — also must be given quickly once an outbreak starts, according to scientists in a study out this week.

Why it matters: One of the few bright spots about this deadly outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the preliminary finding that the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine is very effective. But the violent disruptions of the hard efforts of public health officials there — causing the WHO chief to warn, "The world has never seen anything like this" — are endangering that benefit.

What they did: The research team from the University of Florida used a spatial model examining human mobility, poverty and population density to see how this impacted the effectiveness of the vaccination program during the prior Ebola outbreak in the DRC in 2018.

  • "Our primary purpose was to investigate the timing and pattern of geographical spread of an Ebola outbreak starting from initial cases," study author Burton Singer tells Axios.
  • They used Merck's rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, as it was the most effective known vaccine and it was available for distribution, Singer says.
  • The outbreak in May 2018 was in a different location than the current outbreak.

What they found: The vaccination program lessened both the geographical area that was at risk and the risk level for infection within that region, the study found.

  • The vaccination program contracted the geographical area at risk for Ebola by up to 70%.
  • The program reduced the level of risk within that region by up to 70%.

Yes, but: It also shows there may be a significant drop in its ability to lower infection rates in an area if it's given even a week after the infection has started. A delay of a week led to the above effects to drop to 33% and 45%, respectively, the authors say.

  • "I was surprised by the dramatic potential impact across a substantial geographical area of a delay of even one week in initiating vaccinations following an outbreak. Vaccinating people as early as possible is critically important," Singer says.

What's happening now: Unfortunately, the vaccination regime is being stymied in the current outbreak by community distrust and violent attacks, including the recent death of a WHO epidemiologist Richard Mouzoko.

"I’m profoundly worried, because the number of cases increases with the frequency of attacks. They are almost every day. It disrupts our operations, and when operations are disrupted, the virus gets a free ride."
"After Richard was killed, we were operating at very low levels for three days. And if we can’t find cases as soon as possible, and if we aren’t able to vaccinate everyone, there is a build-up of the chances of this spreading to other provinces and neighbouring countries. That chance gets higher and higher."
— WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in Q&A published in Nature

By the numbers: DRC says they've vaccinated 109,844 people since they began vaccinating people on Aug. 8.

  • The only vaccine used so far in this epidemic is Merck's rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine.
  • Beth-Ann Coller, executive director of project management and leadership at Merck, tells Axios the company was glad the preliminary data shows a "robust response" to the vaccine, of which the company had agreed to stockpile 300,000 doses as a donation to the WHO.
  • Because it takes roughly one year to produce these vaccines, Coller says, they are already working to replenish their stocks.
  • Merck is moving to have the vaccine licensed in the U.S. and the EU, she adds.
  • WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic says WHO also has used the vaccine for nearly 5,000 health and frontline workers in Uganda, 1,400 in South Sudan, and just started vaccinations in the town of Gisenyi, Rwanda.

Meanwhile, Ghebreyesus called for more funding from the international community, saying, "We have just 50% of what we need."

  • The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced yesterday roughly $2.4 million via its Ebola Response Accelerator Challenge to 3 winners, including the WHO, to focus on the community engagement needed to help make the region safer for treatment and vaccination regimes for this Ebola outbreak.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.

1 hour ago - Health

DeSantis to bar Florida schools from mandating masks

Photo: Michael Reaves via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Friday he will issue an executive order "very soon" barring local school districts from requiring students to wear masks when they return to school next month, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has led to a spike in new infections across the U.S., triggering another round of debate about COVID guidelines in schools.