No need for mass vaccination against monkeypox now: WHO

UN health body says outbreak of virus in non-endemic countries can be contained ‘easily’ if contact tracing, isolation measures are implemented.

Dozens of monkeypox cases have been confirmed in an array of non-endemic countries, including in Europe, the Middle East and North America [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said there is no need for mass vaccination campaigns against monkeypox but called for ramped-up efforts to contain its spread in non-endemic countries.

“We think if we put the right measures in place now we can contain it easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director for global infectious hazard preparedness, said on Friday.

Early detection and isolation of cases, as well as contact tracing, were key to curtailing the virus, she told a technical briefing to member states at the UN health agency’s annual assembly in Geneva.

Member states should also share information about first-generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.

“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she added. A slide on her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained”.

Monkeypox, which is typically a mild viral infection, is endemic in several African countries including Cameroon, Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Nigeria.

However, there has been a recent outbreak of dozens of cases in an array of non-endemic countries, including in Europe, the Middle East and North America.

Since the beginning of May, there have been about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in about 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.

‘Investigation, contact tracing, isolation’

Briand stressed that there is currently a window of opportunity to prevent any further spread of the virus, which is transmitted via close contact with an infected person or animal, or with contaminated material.

She also urged against panic since its spread is much slower than other viruses, such as the coronavirus.

Rosamund Lewis, head of the WHO’s smallpox secretariat, which forms part of the body’s emergencies programme, said there was no requirement for mass inoculation at present and instead urged targeted vaccinations, where available, for close contacts of people infected.

There is currently no specific inoculation for monkeypox, but the smallpox vaccine has been shown to offer up to 85 percent protection against the virus.

“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets [for containing the virus],” Lewis said.

Monkeypox was first identified in humans in 1970 in the DRC.

Symptoms of the virus typically include a fever, rash, intense headache, lack of energy and swollen lymph nodes

In recent times, the case fatality ratio has been approximately 3–6 percent, according to the WHO.

INTERACTIVE- Map where has monkeypox been detected so far

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies