Get A Quote

HomeNewsWorsening Cholera Vaccine Shortage Raises Concerns for Deadly Outbreaks

Worsening Cholera Vaccine Shortage Raises Concerns for Deadly Outbreaks


Public health professionals express profound apprehension regarding an unparalleled deficiency of the cholera vaccine, dreading the potential exacerbation of recent outbreaks in underdeveloped nations. They assert that this troubling predicament could have been averted with proactive measures.


Understanding Cholera Outbreaks and Vaccine Shortages Worldwide


In Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, a minimum of 16 nations are contending with cholera outbreaks. Startling data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control highlights the severity of the situation: from Dec. 23 to Jan. 23, approximately 50,500 individuals contracted cholera, leading to nearly 500 fatalities. Compounded by the most severe vaccine shortage since the advent of the oral vaccine in the 1990s, these figures are anticipated to escalate further.


The scarcity of cholera vaccines, as described by health experts, highlights a significant oversight in addressing a disease that disproportionately impacts impoverished communities. Despite the World Health Organization's approval of three vaccines, only one remains in production, leaving a vast gap between supply and demand. With climate change intensifying weather patterns linked to cholera outbreaks, cases continue to surge. Inadequate vaccine supplies force frontline medical workers to rely on insufficient containment strategies amidst humanitarian crises.


Abdou Salam Gueye, the WHO African Region's regional emergency director, underscores the neglect of cholera among marginalized populations, particularly those in poverty, who are overlooked by pharmaceutical companies due to their lack of profitability.


Challenges with Providing and Distributing Cholera Vaccines


Established in 2013 and overseen by the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision, the global stockpile of cholera vaccine was designed to provide expedited assistance to countries in need, offering 5 million doses ready for distribution within a week. However, the reserve is currently dwindling, with only one manufacturer producing doses.


Typically, this vaccine, intended for individuals aged 1 and older, requires two doses administered at least two weeks apart. However, due to restricted supplies, the International Coordinating Group (ICG) modified the protocol to a single dose last year, despite potential implications for the vaccine's efficacy.


Under the standard protocol, the vaccine provides 90% effectiveness against severe diarrhea and dehydration within ten days of vaccination, offering protection for up to three years. In regions susceptible to frequent outbreaks, where cases can escalate for prolonged periods, vaccines play a pivotal role.


During the year 2023, cholera outbreaks swept through thirty nations, compelling fourteen of them to seek a combined total of 76 million doses from the International Coordinating Group (ICG). However, the ICG's vaccine stockpile consisted of a mere 38 million doses. This deficit barely fulfilled fifty percent of the need for a single-dose protocol and only twenty-five percent of the necessity for a two-dose regimen.

Presently, production stands at 2.4 million doses per week, with all forthcoming doses already designated. However, countries authorized by the ICG for vaccine distribution will experience delays, receiving their doses in the second or third week of March due to production setbacks.


The primary cause of this scarcity is clear: With each dose priced at $1.50, cholera vaccines lack allure for pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, demand predominantly arises from impoverished nations or emergency situations such as conflicts or natural disasters. Garone underscored the importance of multiple manufacturers to sustain a viable market.


Adjusting Healthcare Approaches During Cholera Crisis


In light of the ongoing crisis, frontline healthcare workers are adapting their strategies away from relying solely on vaccines, according to insights from WHO's Gueye. Across numerous African nations, the emphasis has shifted from cholera vaccination as the primary intervention.


Instead, the immediate focus is on reducing mortality rates to below 1%, emphasizing the importance of building trust within affected communities. Establishing this trust is crucial, as communities may hesitate to seek medical assistance due to the severity of cholera symptoms and the high mortality rates observed in healthcare facilities.


Gueye underscores the profound impact of cholera on human dignity, stressing the need for compassionate and sensitive care. Once trust is established, healthcare workers implement secondary measures to improve water and sanitation infrastructure, although resources are often limited.


In cases where water and sanitation interventions are challenging, vaccination emerges as the only viable solution. However, the shortage of vaccines poses a significant barrier to effective intervention.


Reflecting on past successes, Gueye recalls a notable response to a cholera outbreak in Western Africa in 2022, which was facilitated by additional funding from WHO. However, recent funding requests in the face of escalating cases have been unsuccessful, leaving healthcare workers without the necessary resources to combat the disease effectively. Gueye also warns of the escalating impact of climate change on future cholera outbreaks, particularly in regions like Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar in eastern and southern Africa. Previously cyclical flooding patterns, often triggering cholera outbreaks, are now overlapping, prolonging crises.


This underscores the disproportionate burden on the world's poorest nations during global crises. Gueye redefines cholera as not solely a public health concern but a reflection of broader development issues. Addressing underlying human development challenges could naturally alleviate cholera-related problems.


Navigating towards this objective faces growing complexity as economic expansion widens income disparities in the Global South, exacerbating community marginalization. Nonetheless, Gueye maintains optimism, highlighting the potential of minimal funding to generate significant impacts. He advocates for channeling a fraction of the United Nations Green Climate Fund's $13 billion budget towards initiatives dedicated to cholera prevention and treatment.

Previous article
Next article