Richer countries buy massive supplies of Monkeypox vaccines

Richer countries buy massive supplies of Monkeypox vaccines

What you need to know about the virus that causes monkeypox. Video / AP / Getty

Moves by wealthy countries to buy large quantities of monkeypox vaccine from monkeys, while refusing to share doses with Africa, could leave millions of people unprotected against a more dangerous version of the disease and risk the continued spread of the virus. for humans, warn public health officials.

Critics fear a repeat of the catastrophic problems of inequality seen during the pandemic.

“The mistakes we saw during the pandemic are already being repeated,” said Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.

While rich countries have ordered millions of vaccines to stop smallpox within their borders, none have announced plans to share doses with Africa, where a more lethal form of smallpox is spreading than in the West.

To date, there have been more than 22,000 cases of monkeypox reported in nearly 80 countries since May, with around 75 suspected deaths in Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Congo. On Friday, Brazil and Spain reported smallpox-related deaths, the first reported outside of Africa. Spain reported a second death from monkeypox yesterday.

“African countries that have been dealing with smallpox outbreaks for decades have been relegated to a footnote in conversations about the global response,” Titanji said.

Scientists say that, unlike campaigns to stop Covid-19, mass vaccinations against monkeypox will not be necessary. They think that the targeted use of available doses, along with other measures, could end the expanding epidemics that were recently designated by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency.

However, while smallpox is much harder to spread than Covid, experts warn that if the disease is to spread to populations at large – currently in Europe and North America it circulates almost exclusively among gay and bisexual men – the need of vaccines may intensify, especially if the virus takes root in new regions.

Public health officials warn that moves to buy large amounts of monkeypox vaccine, while refusing to share doses with Africa, could leave millions of people unprotected.  Photo/AP
Public health officials warn that moves to buy large amounts of monkeypox vaccine, while refusing to share doses with Africa, could leave millions of people unprotected. Photo/AP

On Thursday, Africa’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for the continent to be prioritized for vaccines.

“If we are not safe, the rest of the world is not safe,” said Africa CDC acting director Ahmed Ogwell.

Although monkeypox has been endemic in parts of Africa for decades, it mainly jumps people from infected wild animals and has not typically spread far beyond the continent.

Experts suspect that smallpox outbreaks in North America and Europe may have originated in Africa long before the disease began to spread via sex at two raves in Spain and Belgium. Currently, more than 70% of smallpox cases in the world are in Europe and 98% in men who have sex with men.

Catherine Smallwood, senior emergencies officer at WHO Europe, said the deaths in Spain did not change the agency’s assessment of the outbreak.

“While the disease is self-limiting in most cases, smallpox can cause serious complications,” she said in an email, adding that about 8% of reported infections required hospitalization and that smallpox can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. of life, such as encephalitis. .

“With the continued spread of smallpox in Europe, we expect to see more deaths,” said Smallwood.

The WHO is developing a vaccine-sharing mechanism for affected countries, but has released few details on how this might work. The UN health agency gave no assurances about prioritizing poor countries in Africa, saying only that vaccines would be dispensed based on epidemiological need.

Some experts fear the mechanism could duplicate the problems seen with Covax, created by the WHO and partners in 2020 to try to ensure that the poorest countries receive Covid vaccines. This missed repeated targets to share vaccines with poorer nations.

“Just asking countries to share will not be enough,” said Sharmila Shetty, a vaccine consultant at Doctors Without Borders. “The more monkeypox circulates, the greater the chances of it entering new animal reservoirs or spreading to the general human population,” she said.

At the moment, there is only one producer of the most advanced vaccine against monkeypox: the Danish company Bavarian Nordic. Its production capacity this year is around 30 million doses, with around 16 million vaccines available now.

Daniel Rofin, 41, receives a Monkeypox vaccine from a healthcare worker at a medical center in Barcelona, ​​Spain.  Photo/AP
Daniel Rofin, 41, receives a Monkeypox vaccine from a healthcare worker at a medical center in Barcelona, ​​Spain. Photo/AP

In May, Bavarian Nordic asked the U.S. to release more than 215,000 doses it was supposed to receive “to help with the international orders the company was receiving,” and the U.S. complied, according to Bill Hall, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Humans. Services. The US will still get the doses, but at a later date.

The company declined to specify which countries it was allocating doses to.

Hall said the US has made no further promises to share vaccines. The US has ordered by far the largest number of doses, with 13 million reserved, although only about 1.4 million have been delivered.

Some African officials said it would be wise to stockpile some doses on the continent, especially given the difficulties Western countries were facing in preventing smallpox.

“I really didn’t think it would spread very far, because monkeypox doesn’t spread like Covid,” said Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. “Africa should get some vaccines if we need them, but we should prioritize diagnosis and surveillance so we know who to target.”

Ingrid Katz, a global health expert at Harvard University, said monkeypox epidemics are “potentially manageable” if limited vaccines are distributed properly. She believed it was still possible to prevent smallpox from turning into a pandemic, but “we need to be careful in our prevention strategies and quick in our response.”

In Spain, which has the biggest smallpox outbreak in Europe, demand for vaccines far exceeds supply.

“There’s a real gap between the number of vaccines we currently have available and the people who could benefit,” said Pep Coll, medical director of a Barcelona health center that was handing out vaccines this week.

Daniel Rofin, 41, was more than happy to get a fix. He said he decided to get vaccinated for the same reasons he was immunized against Covid-19.

“I feel confident that it’s a way to stop the spread,” he said. “We (gays) are a risk group.”


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