Rwanda’s Umurinzi Ebola Vaccine Program Launches

J&J Janssen Ebola Zaire vaccine regimen offered to Rwanda residents

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The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies announced they are providing up to 200,000 Ebola vaccine regimens to the Republic of Rwanda.

According to a Janssen press release published on December 8, 2019, the Rwanda Ministry of Health has decided to use Janssen’s vaccine regimen in its border zones.

Jannsen’s Ad26.ZEBOV/MVA-BN is a heterologous prime-boost Ebola vaccine regimen.

This vaccine uses a viral vector approach, where a virus is genetically modified so that it cannot replicate but is used to safely express key proteins of the target virus. A prime-boost vaccination is an established approach for the prevention of other infectious diseases.

The objective of this vaccination program is to create a protective barrier preventing the Ebola Zaire virus from impacting Rwanda’s citizens and from spreading further in Africa.

This commitment was announced by New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson on December 8, 2019, and will support the Rwanda Government’s new immunization program that aims to help protect the country’s citizens from the Ebola outbreak in central Africa.

The first batches of Janssen’s vaccine have been delivered to Rwanda, and further shipments are being organized, said this press release.

This is important news since a significant number of Rwandan citizens cross the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the current Ebola hot-zone, on a regular basis. 

To date, nearly 8,000 volunteers across the U.S., Europe, and Africa have participated in multiple clinical studies of the Janssen Ebola vaccine. 

The 2-dose regimen includes Ad26.ZEBOV as the first dose, which is based on Janssen’s AdVac® technology, and MVA-BN-Filo as the second dose, which is based on Bavarian Nordic’s MVA-BN® technology and is administered approximately 8 weeks later.

Dr. Diane Gashumba, Rwanda Minister of Health, said in a related press release, “Following various trials of the Ebola vaccine in different countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts’ (SAGE) recommendations, the Rwanda Food and Drug Authority has reviewed the trials made about this vaccine around the world and it has been approved that the Janssen vaccine is safe and that it can be given as a preventive measure.” 

“Therefore, Rwanda’s FDA granted conditional approval under exceptional emergency for Janssen’s Ebola vaccine regimen.”

The new vaccination program is called Umurinzi, which locally refers to the Umurinzi tree which means “guardian” in Kinyarwanda, an official language of Rwanda. 

The program will include a large-scale vaccination campaign involving approximately 200,000 Rwandans ages 2 years and older judged to be at-risk. In parallel, an immunogenicity study and a clinical study in pregnant women are being discussed.

The Umurinzi Ebola Vaccine Program immunization campaign is being planned by the Rwanda Ministry of Health and its Rwanda Biomedical Center, who will work with local partners such as Emory University’s Project San Francisco in Kigali to implement the program together with Rinda Ubuzima. 

Johnson & Johnson’s Global Public Health division is helping to support community engagement and health system capacity for Umurinzi through its work in the EBODAC (Ebola Vaccine Deployment, Acceptance, and Compliance) consortium, which is funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and also includes the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), World Vision, and Grameen Foundation. 

Innovative iris scanning technology and automated phone reminders will help track the uptake and impact of the Janssen vaccine while a mobile training platform will reinforce key Ebola messages for the community health worker population.

Janssen’s investigational Ebola vaccine regimen was developed in a collaborative research program with the NIH and received direct funding and preclinical services from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH, under Contract Numbers HHSN272200800056C and HHSN272201200003I, respectively. 

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on November 8, 2019, it is providing nearly $56 million in additional humanitarian assistance to combat the ongoing Ebola Zaire virus outbreak. This USAID additional funding increases the USA’s total to more than $266 million since the beginning of the outbreak in the DRC during August 2018.

Further funding for the Ebola vaccine regimen has been provided in part with federal funds from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, BARDA under Contract Numbers HHSO100201700013C and HHSO100201500008C.

Johnson & Johnson has made a significant investment in Janssen’s Ebola vaccine regimen since its decision to accelerate the development program in 2014 in response to the widespread outbreak that occurred in West Africa that year.

At Janssen, ‘we're creating a future where disease is a thing of the past. We're the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, working tirelessly to make that future a reality for patients everywhere by fighting sickness with science, improving access with ingenuity, and healing hopelessness with heart.' Learn more at Janssen.

Ebola Vaccine news published by Vax-Before-Travel