Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has announced Australia has secured 450,000 doses of a crucial monkeypox vaccine, with the first 22,000 arriving in the next fortnight.
Since May, the virus has spread in over 70 non-endemic countries globally, with cases climbing to the tens of thousands in the northern hemisphere.
In Australia, there are now 58 cases of monkeypox. The virus does not spread easily but experts have urged vaccination of at-risk populations to stop a major outbreak here.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said in Australia, all monkeypox cases had been found among gay, bisexual and men who had sex with other men. All but two Australian cases were among travellers returning from overseas.
However Prof Kelly stressed that monkeypox “can affect anyone”.
“That’s why we’ve got the guidance nationally to prepare and respond to this outbreak,” Kelly said.
Some gay and bisexual men prioritised for vaccination
Health Minister Mark Butler said Australia secured the vaccine doses “in a time of limited supply and significant global demand,” as countries overseas also tackle outbreaks.
“[Vaccination] is an important step towards minimising the risk and impact of any further monkeypox outbreaks in Australia,” he said.
The third generation Jynneos vaccine is used to prevent monkeypox transmission, but also as a post-exposure treatment.
Professor Paul Kelly said monkeypox generally did not cause severe disease. But it does present a risk of serious illness in some people. They include the immunocompromised, people living with HIV and pregnant women. The virus has caused some deaths in Europe.
Prof Kelly said the limited supplies would be “targeted at those at greatest risk of having the disease or having poor consequences [from] the disease”.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) last week advised close contacts, some gay and bisexual men, sex workers and health workers be prioritised for vaccination.
The ATAGI advice recommends gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men with a high number of sexual contacts or who are living with HIV get vaccinated.
Gay and bi Australians are ‘already taking monkeypox seriously’
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) applauded the announcement of the “critical” vaccine doses.
“Local transmission of monkeypox has so far been limited,” acting CEO Heath Paynter said.
“[But] we can’t rely on that to continue. Cities such as London, Montreal, Lisbon and Madrid are all dealing with significant community transmission.
“The availability of MPX vaccine for people who need it is a critical forward defence against transmission.
“It will help people look after their own health as well as that of people they are intimate with.
Paynter said, “Gay and bisexual men are already taking monkeypox very seriously. [They’re] monitoring for symptoms and regularly seeking medical advice.
“[Vaccination] is a very welcome additional tool.”
What are the symptoms of monkeypox?
Monkeypox spreads through close skin-to-skin physical contact with someone who has symptoms.
This includes intimate contact during sex, or direct contact with contaminated objects, such as bedding, towels or clothes.
Monkeypox symptoms can range from mild to very painful. Some gay men overseas have candidly shared their experiences with severe symptoms of monkeypox.
The symptoms include rashes, lesions or sores on the body, including on the genitals, face and mouth.
Flu-like symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and/or exhaustion.
People who contract monkeypox must isolate until the sores fully clear, which can be up to 21 days.
If you’ve returned from a country where #Monkeypox is currently present & you develop symptoms, please seek medical advice immediately. For more visit https://t.co/td2EDI53N9 pic.twitter.com/7OxHcpXceX
— Australian Department of Health and Aged Care (@healthgovau) July 29, 2022
Speaking last week, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said symptoms typically resolve without the need for treatment. However, antivirals are available.
“Although MPX is not usually considered a sexually transmissible infection, physical contact with an infected person during sexual intercourse carries a significant risk of transmission.
“Intimate physical contact such as hugging, kissing and sexual activities represent a risk of infection. Infectious skin sores [are] the likely mode of transmission.
“The rash usually occurs on the face before spreading to other parts of the body, including the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
“However, in this outbreak it is being seen especially on the genital and perianal regions of affected people.”
Dr Kelly said the rash can “vary from person to person and take on the appearance of pimples, blisters or sores.”
“The flu-like symptoms often include fever, chills, body aches, headaches, swollen lymph nodes and tiredness,” he said.
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