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Australia New vaccines on the way as monkeypox declared an 'incident of national significance'

00:31  29 july  2022
00:31  29 july  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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Newer vaccines to tackle monkeypox are on their way to Australia to deal with the emergency, but experts warn currently there is limited supply.

Australian health authorities have designated monkeypox to be a "communicable disease of national significance".

Two vaccines are available to prevent the condition.

People at a high risk of exposure to the virus are advised to speak to their GP or sexual health clinic about vaccine options.

Australia has existing supplies of an older vaccine which is tricky to administer, not suitable for severely immunocompromised people and is associated with rare but serious side effects.

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A second and newer vaccine called Jynneos has fewer side effects and can be given to people whose immune system is compromised.

Health Minister Mark Butler said Australia was actively pursuing supplies of the newer vaccines, which are in limited supply, before the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency, and said the government was trying to raise awareness of the virus.

"The government is working closely with peak bodies and organisations to improve awareness and encourage people at risk, as well as health professionals, to be alert to the symptoms," he said.

This week, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) said limited supplies of the new vaccine had been secured by the Commonwealth and some states and territories.

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It released new advice on who should get the vaccines, saying gay and bisexual men, sex workers and health workers will be prioritised as they are populations most at risk.

Though, ATAGI said widespread vaccination was not recommended due to the low risk of infection and limited vaccine supply.

Calls for comprehensive response to outbreak

Monkeypox is usually a mild illness lasting two to four weeks and most people do not need treatment.

But severe illness can occur, particularly in immunocompromised people.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, the head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, said while the virus did not pose an extremely high risk for the general population, there was some risk.

"We've gone from a few hundred cases in the month of May, two months later, to over 20,000 cases in 70 countries where monkeypox has never been seen before," she said.

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She's calling for a comprehensive response to the outbreak, including a public education campaign focused on the risks and symptoms.

So far, more than 98 per cent of monkeypox cases have been in men who have sex with men.

"We think it's spread through close, intimate contact, maybe through sexual contact in a particular social network that's connected globally, and that's why we've seen this pattern but it doesn't mean it can't spread to other parts of the community," she said.

"We have had a handful of cases in children, for example, also women and healthcare workers as well."

Symptoms of monkeypox include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain and back pain, followed by a rash on the face, arms and legs within one to three days after getting a fever onset.

Skin lesions then develop.

'It's not a trivial disease'

So far in Australia, there have been 44 monkeypox cases, the vast majority in people aged in their 20s and 30s returning from overseas.

Virologist David Tscharke is an expert in pox viruses from the John Curtin School of Medical Research at Australian National University.

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He said measures to prevent the virus's spread include being careful in any sexual encounters, watching out for any infections or rashes, and getting a vaccine as soon as you can if you're in an at-risk group.

"For those people who are vulnerable to catching this infection, do take it seriously and do what you can to avoid becoming infected," Professor Tscharke said.

"Because it's not a trivial disease and we really don't want anyone who is immunocompromised to get it because it can cause a lot of harm if people's immune system isn't able to fight it."

According to ATAGI, vaccination within four days of first exposure to an infectious case would provide the highest likelihood of prevention of disease.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations acting CEO, Heath Paynter expected Australia would get enough of the newer vaccine for all people at risk of monkeypox.

"We welcome the updated ATAGI guidance that gay and bisexual men, sex workers and health workers will be prioritised as they are populations most at risk," he said.

"It is critically important to have LGBT community health organisations involved in designing and promoting educational materials that outline benefits of vaccines, the importance of testing and the need to seek treatment."

Advocates say the vaccine needs to be made accessible to all gay and bisexual men, especially before big events like World Pride in February.

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usr: 0
This is interesting!