Monkeypox: ‘No plans yet to get vaccine,’ says health ministry

Updated on Jul 26, 2022 02:08 AM IST

There are currently no plans to procure smallpox vaccines to guard against monkeypox infections in India, health ministry officials said on Monday, clarifying that the source of infection in all reported cases, except for one in Delhi, has been traced.

 (PTI)
(PTI)
By, New Delhi

There are currently no plans to procure smallpox vaccines to guard against monkeypox infections in India, health ministry officials said on Monday, clarifying that the source of infection in all reported cases, except for one in Delhi, has been traced.

Depending on how the infections spread in the country, the government will consider such a move at an appropriate time, the officials added, requesting anonymity.

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“We only have four confirmed cases of monkeypox in India. In the current situation, we are not actively considering vaccination, but we are not completely rejecting that possibility,” a health ministry official said. “If the need arises in the future, we will look into our options.”

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Out of the four confirmed monkeypox cases in India, the source for three has been identified, the official said. The only case where the patient has no foreign travel history is from Delhi. Experts are looking into the matter, he said. A fifth suspected case is in Telangana but confirmation on whether samples from this person are indeed of the virus was still awaited from the National Institute of Virology, Pune.

Vaccination against smallpox has been demonstrated through several observational studies to be about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, according to the World Health Organisation. After the eradication of smallpox in 1980, live variola (smallpox) virus was preserved for research at only two locations — the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta in the US, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Russia.

Bavarian Nordic, a Danish biotechnology company, is the only one in the world that manufactures a licensed vaccine against monkeypox. The company’s smallpox vaccine, known as Imvanex in Europe, Imvamune in Canada and Jynneos in the US, is a third-generation serum, which means a live vaccine that does not replicate in humans.

The European Commission last week gave permission for Imvanex vaccine to be marketed as protection against monkeypox.

Thomas Duschek, communications partner, Bavarian Nordic, said in response to HT’s queries, “We cannot disclose the list of countries we have either signed contracts with or are in talks with on procurement of our vaccine. As you will have seen from our press releases over the past two months, we have signed contracts with the US, Canada and EU (HERA) along with multiple undisclosed countries.”

India does not need to rush with procuring vaccines against monkeypox, health experts said, but there was no harm in formulating a vaccination strategy pre-emptively.

The number of cases in India does not justify an immediate need for ring vaccination, but it might be a good idea to get in line for the available drugs and vaccines soon, according to Dr Gagandeep Kang, virologist and professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore.

“The first thing to understand here is that this is not an RNA virus and we cannot relate this to what we have seen with Sars-CoV-2. However, this is a public health concern because we are seeing human-to-human spread now,” Dr Kang said. “If we are aware of symptoms and if we track travel history and contacts, we do not need to worry much. Having a strategy for ring vaccination contact would be useful.”

Ring vaccination is a strategy to control the spread of disease by vaccinating contacts of confirmed patients and people who are in close contact with those contacts.

Dr Amita Gupta, chief, division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that India should consider procuring smallpox vaccine for early control as it is very likely there are additional cases occurring in the country just as is being seen in the rest of the world.

“Currently mass vaccination is not required. Instead, priority is recommended for contacts of cases — should be offered post-exposure prophylaxis ideally with vaccination occurring within four days of first exposure to prevent onset of disease, and pre-exposure prophylaxis for health care workers, who are at risk, laboratory personnel working with orthopoxviruses such as monkeypox, clinical lab staff performing testing of monkeypox, and high-risk populations,” Dr Gupta said.

”Currently, the global outbreak has predominantly been among men who have sex with men and thus providing vaccine to men who have sex with men should be a priority,” she added.

Monkeypox is public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization declared on Saturday. Till now, there have been over 16,000 cases reported from 75 countries in the world.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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