Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich has urged the Australian government to vaccinate vulnerable groups against monkeypox, including men who have sex with men.
Monkeypox is a rare viral infection usually associated with travel to Central and West Africa. However an unusual global outbreak has exploded to 14,000 cases in 55 non-endemic countries. The majority are in Europe as well as the US, with many cases found in men who have sex with men. But the World Health Organisation stresses anyone is at risk of contracting the virus.
While monkeypox can be serious, it does not spread easily and most people fully recover in a number of weeks without treatment.
In Australia, there have been at least 38 confirmed and probable cases. The vast majority are recent international travellers. Twenty-two of the recorded infections were in NSW, including two suspected locally-transmitted cases.
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said he was hearing from gay and bisexual constituents with concerns about international travellers returning from holidays over summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
This week, Greenwich wrote to Health Minister Mark Butler to call on the government take “urgent action to secure monkeypox vaccine”.
“With many Australians enjoying summer holidays in countries where there are cases, and concerts and festivals recommencing here, we’re at risk of seeing cases rapidly rise,” he said.
Greenwich said overseas, the virus has been found in many gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men “potentially because they are more likely to seek testing in response to symptoms”.
“I am concerned that gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men and young people will be vulnerable to getting sick and passing the virus on to loved ones and community members,” he said.
“While most people will recover, some will get seriously ill.”
I’ve urged the federal government to fast track approval, procurement and distribution of monkeypox vaccine to the most at risk groups.
— Alex Greenwich MP (@AlexGreenwich) July 20, 2022
Greenwich said Australia “has the ability to ensure we don’t have an outbreak by vaccinating at-risk groups.”
“We have a golden opportunity to stop the virus in its track. But we have to act quick,” he said.
Call for Australia to prioritise registration of vaccine
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, national vaccine advisory group ATAGI currently recommends the ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine for healthcare staff working around monkeypox.
ATAGI said authorities may consider contacts of monkeypox cases for vaccination.
One high-risk close contact of a case in New South Wales has received a smallpox vaccine, the Herald reported.
Alex Greenwich wants Health Minister Mark Butler to work with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to prioritise approval of a different smallpox vaccine, JYNNEOS.
That vaccine is more effective and currently in use in the US. In the past few months, targeted community vaccine programs there have seen high demand as cases rise.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Mark Butler told the Sydney Morning Herald the TGA had not received an application to register the MVA-BN (JYNNEOS) vaccine in Australia.
But the regulator would prioritise that process if they did, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the government recognised community concern about the monkeypox virus and was working on its response.
This includes working with peak bodies to increase awareness among at-risk groups.
Symptoms of monkeypox can vary, NSW Health says
NSW Health advises people with monkeypox symptoms to call ahead to a GP or sexual health service. When booking the appointment, explain the symptoms and wear a mask as a precaution.
“While the usual symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, body aches, and a lumpy rash, some of the cases reported in NSW so far are not presenting in this way,” a spokesperson said.
“Instead, people may initially see what appears to be a couple of pimples in the genital area or buttocks.
“So people, especially men who have sex with men, need to pay careful attention to any potential symptoms.”
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