The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. stockpile contains more than 100 million doses of an older generation smallpox vaccine that is believed to be effective against monkeypox and aims to accelerate the delivery of a new vaccine that could help prevent a possible outbreak. Its European counterpart recommended on Monday that countries update their communication-tracing systems and “review the availability of smallpox vaccines, antivirals and personal protective equipment for health professionals.”
Studies have shown that the Smallpox vaccine – given by some military members and lab staff – is at least 85 percent effective against monkeypox, according to the CDC, the shot is rare, with serious side effects associated with heartburn, the agency said. It recommends that it should not be taken by people with weakened immune systems or certain skin conditions.
Nevertheless, the CDC says that for most people, the risk of monkeypox is higher than any one vaccine.
The old smallpox vaccine “has some potentially significant side effects, so there must be some serious discussion behind the decision to use it widely,” Jennifer McQueston, CDC’s deputy director, told reporters at a news conference Monday after President Biden. He said the country was exploring vaccine options.
Any vaccine delivery will now focus on people “we know will benefit from it”, such as healthcare workers or those who have been in close contact with confirmed cases, he added. Many countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada, and France, stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in the 1970’s because the disease was eradicated worldwide.
German authorities have warned that Europe is facing the biggest outbreak of the disease, characterized by a rash and sores that are the most significant source of spread, such as skin-to-skin contact. In the United States, a single lawsuit was confirmed Monday in Massachusetts, with four possible cases under investigation. The disease has been confirmed in more than 100 cases in at least 13 countries outside West and Central Africa, where the disease is endemic.
What about monkeypox, a rare virus now confirmed in the United States and Europe?
The new vaccine, Genius, has more than 1,000 doses in the U.S. stockpile, which is not widely available and was approved in 2019 to prevent smallpox and monkeypox, said McQueston of the CDC.
“We expect this level to rise very quickly in the coming weeks, as the company provides us with more doses,” McQueston said. The developer Jynneos said the U.S. government used its option for a $ 119 million order that would allow the production and shipment of a freeze-dried version of the shot in 2023 and 2024.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control states that dosages of the Smallpox vaccine may be considered after exposure to high-risk close contact, but noted that more information on their use is needed for groups at increased risk of serious disease.
The World Health Organization, which has stocks of smallpox vaccine previously estimated at 31 million doses, noted that immunity will probably be limited to older people who have been vaccinated before countries like the United States stop administering shots to the public.
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As Britain has seen an increase in the number of cases, it has offered smallpox vaccine to some health workers. Meanwhile, Germany’s health minister said the country was evaluating vaccine options for those at risk but noted that “the general public is not discussing vaccines.”
A senior WHO official echoed those comments on Monday. Richard Peabody, who leads a high-threat pathogen group in Europe, told Reuters that the WHO believes that mass vaccination for monkeypox outbreaks does not require mass vaccinations because hygiene and safe-sex measures, as well as contact detection and isolation can help control it.
He said immediate vaccine supplies and antiviral treatment were limited but added that the virus did not spread easily. WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhov also described the outbreak on Monday as a “predictable situation” and said it was possible to stop the infection.
The spread of the unspoken monkeypox so far has raised some concerns as the world is free of the coronavirus epidemic, but health officials insist the virus is not new or easily transmitted. According to health officials, the latest developments are partly due to the fact that many do not have travel links to countries where monkeypox is more regularly found.
Annabelle Timseet contributed to this report.