The world’s first Ebola vaccine was approved by European drugs regulators on Friday in a move hailed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “triumph for public health” that would save many lives.
The vaccine, developed by U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co, is already being used under emergency guidelines to try to protect people against the spread of a deadly Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is also being reviewed under a fast-track system by regulators in the United States.
“This vaccine has already saved many lives in the current Ebola outbreak, and the decision by European regulator will help it to eventually save many more,” the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
The Congo Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,100 people since the middle of last year. It is the second largest Ebola outbreak in history, after a 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,300.
The Merck vaccine, which the company has now brand-named Ervebo, is likely to get a full marketing licence from the European Commission within a few weeks.
Merck said in a statement its priority now was to get regulatory approval of its Ervebo manufacturing site in Germany so that licensed supply of the vaccine “can be used to support global public health preparedness.”
Health authorities in Kinshasa said last week they planned to introduce an experimental second Ebola vaccine, developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, in November in the country’s eastern provinces.
Ebola virus causes haemorrhagic fever and spreads from person to person through direct contact with body fluids. It kills around half of those it infects.
There are currently no licensed treatments for the deadly infection, but scientists said in August they were a step closer to being able to cure it after two experimental drugs showed survival rates of as much as 90% in a clinical trial in Congo.