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Could Monkeypox be declared an ‘Emergency of International Concern’ this week?

June 21, 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) will meet this week to decide if Monkeypox should be moved to the highest level of global alert and be declared a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern.’

Could Monkeypox be declared an ‘Emergency of International Concern’ this week?

The International Health Regulations Committee is due to meet this Thursday, June 23, to assess the situation. It comes as 1,600 cases of the virus were confirmed by the WHO, in addition to a further 1,500 suspected cases.

To date, the WHO has received reports of Monkeypox in 39 countries, including seven countries where monkeypox has been detected for years, and 32 non-endemic, newly-affected nations.

While no deaths have been registered so far in the newly-affected countries, 72 people are known to have died as a result of the virus in previously-affected countries. Meanwhile, experts are currently verifying reports of a suspected related death in Brazil.

To help with the detection and control of the spread of Monkeypox, the WHO has published recommendations for governments around the world, citing awareness as key in the fight to curb further infections.

Monkeypox is transmitted through close physical contact with someone who has symptoms. The rash, fluids, and scabs are especially infectious. Clothing, bedding, towels, or objects such as eating utensils or dishes that have been contaminated with the virus can also infect others.

However, it is not clear whether people who do not have symptoms can spread the disease.

Last week, the WHO published new guidelines on vaccination against Monkeypox.

While some countries have maintained strategic supplies of older smallpox vaccines – a virus eradicated in 1980 – these first-generation vaccines held in national stockpiles are not recommended for Monkeypox at this time, because they do not meet the current safety and manufacturing standards.

Newer and safer (second- and third generation) smallpox vaccines are also available, some of which may be useful for Monkeypox and one of which (MVA-BN) has been approved for the prevention of the disease.

However, the supply of these new vaccines is limited, and access strategies are being discussed. Right now, the WHO is not recommending mass vaccination programmes and says any such move would be based on a full assessment of the risks and benefits in each case.

This stance may well change following Thursday’s meeting.

Related: Monkeypox – what you need to know

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