Opinion: Ebola vaccine for pregnant women: one step closer but still more to go

Protecting fetuses from harmful exposures is a laudable goal. But pregnancy shouldn't automatically exclude women from receiving lifesaving therapies like the #Ebola vaccine.
A mother nurses her newborn at a maternity ward in eastern Sierra Leone during the 2016 Ebola outbreak. An effective vaccine that is now being used to fight the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should be offered to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Source: MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

In the midst of a deadly epidemic like Ebola, who should get an experimental vaccine that provides protection against the disease 97.5% of the time?

The obvious candidates would be immediate contacts of people who developed Ebola, and their contacts. Yet an entire group of vulnerable individuals who fall into these categories — women who are pregnant or who are breastfeeding infants — are being denied this lifesaving intervention.

The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, which is being developed by Merck, has not yet been approved for commercial use. The vaccine is currently being used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 2,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and close to 1,400 have died, making this the world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak.

So far, more than 130,000 people in the DRC outbreak have received rVSV-ZEBOV using what’s called a ring vaccination approach: The vaccine identified as contacts since the vaccination campaign began have been denied the opportunity to get rVSV-ZEBOV.

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