No Need for Panic, Mass Vaccination against MonkeyPox, Says WHO

Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja

Despite about 200 cases of monkeypox in more than 20 countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that there was no need for mass vaccination against the disease but called for ramped-up efforts to contain its spread in non-endemic countries.

The federal government had revealed that it had beefed up surveillance at Nigeria’s entry points.

WHO said nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease. It described the epidemic as “containable,” and proposed the creation of a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.

WHO’s Director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, Sylvie Bri-and, said early detection and isolation of cases, as well as contact trac-ing, were key to curtailing the virus.

She told a technical briefing of member-states at the United Nations (UN) health agency’s annual assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, that there were still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa. She added that there is no evidence that any genetic changes in the virus are responsible.

Briand said: “The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not different from the strains we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behaviour.

“We think if we put the right measures in place now we can contain it easily,” she said.

She urged members to also share information about first-generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can be effective against monkey-pox.

“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 con-strained”.

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 ar-ray 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.

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.

Head of the WHO’s smallpox secretariat, which forms part of the body’s emergency programme, Rosamund Lewis, said there was no require-ment 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 small-pox vaccine has been shown to offer up to 85 per cent protection against the virus.

Meanwhile, countries have reportedly agreed to an initial United States-led push to reform the rules around disease outbreaks, known as the International Health Regulations (IHR), after early opposition from Africa and others were overcome this week, sources told Reuters on Friday.

The amendments, once confirmed by the WHO assembly, are one of a handful of concrete outcomes from a meeting seen as a once-in-a-generation chance for the UN health agency to strengthen its role following some 15 million deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reform sought by Washington and backed by others like Japan and the European Union (EU) is the first step in a broader reform of the IHR, which set out countries’ legal obligations around disease outbreaks, ex-pected to take up to two years.

Earlier last week, African countries and others had voiced opposition to the approach.

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