An emergency vaccination drive was set in motion this week in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo to curb an outbreak of yellow fever that has killed over 400 people and left thousands more sick, the World Health Organization said.
The two countries, which have a combined 6,136 suspected cases and 953 confirmed cases since the outbreak started in December, intend to vaccinate over 14 million people in more than 8,000 locations, CNN reports.
In order to reach as many individuals as possible, just one-fifth of the standard dose will be administered as an emergency measure. This “fractional dosing” was recommended by a group of experts as the most effective means of maximizing the limited vaccine supply. Yellow fever vaccines take at least six months to make. The WHO approved 11.5 million doses for Congo and 21 million doses for Angola.
Yellow fever is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms include headaches, fever, vomiting, nausea, muscle pain, jaundice, and fatigue. A minority of patients develop more severe symptoms, half of whom die within ten days.
The outbreak began earlier in Angola, starting in the capital Luanda in late December. The disease rapidly spread to 16 provinces. The most recent numbers report a total of 3,867 suspected cases, with 879 confirmed through lab testing. There have been 369 deaths, but no new cases have been reported in July to August.
In Congo, the outbreak began in April. A total of 2,269 suspected cases have been reported, with 74 confirmed as of August. Seven provinces have confirmed yellow fever, 56 cases of which came from Angola. According to the WHO, more than 16 million people have been vaccinated in Congo and Angola together.
The yellow fever virus is endemic in tropical regions of 47 countries in Africa, South and Central America.
Since 2006, mass vaccination campaigns have protected over 105 million people.
The WHO is partnering with the Congo and Angola health ministries, as well as 56 other global organizations such as the International Federation of the Red Cross, Médecins sans Frontières and UNICEF to mobilize this massive vaccination campaign, which will hopefully be accomplished before the rainy season starts in September.