Monkeypox vaccine recommended for all those unvaccinated against smallpox

Monkeypox vaccine recommended for all those unvaccinated against smallpox
Credit: Belga

For people who were exposed to monkeypox, Belgium's Superior Health Council recommends vaccination with a smallpox vaccine for those who were not vaccinated against smallpox in childhood.

Due to the limited stock of smallpox vaccines in Belgium, the Superior Health Council only recommends vaccination in the most necessary cases, in the first place people who never received a smallpox vaccine as a child.

"A general vaccination campaign, such as for Covid-19, is absolutely out of the question in this case," a Virologist at the Sciensano National Health Institute, Steven Van Gucht, told The Brussels Times.

"With monkeypox, the recommendation is to consider vaccinating people who have potentially had a high-risk contact. But that can range from a few to over a dozen, depending on the situation," he said. "And with Belgium's limited stock, we have to make choices."

Ring vaccination

Therefore, the Superior Health Council recommends a smallpox vaccination for those who are infected or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed infection (within four days of exposure), if they come into close contact with children, vulnerable people and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

If children, immunocompromised people, or pregnant or breastfeeding women themselves have had a high-risk contact, it is recommended that they contact a doctor, who will then investigate whether a vaccine is recommended.

"For those groups, a potential infection has the highest risk of leading to serious complications," Van Gucht said. "For a healthy man in his thirties, for example, the chances of complications are very low."

He explained that this strategy is called "ring vaccination," which aims to stop the spread of the virus by vaccinating those who are most likely to be infected: the contacts of confirmed patients, and people who are in close contact with those contacts.

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At the end of May, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke announced that Belgium had bought 1,250 vaccine doses against monkeypox (sufficient for 625 patients) through a European group purchase procedure.

Unlike with Covid-19, this is a kind of Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) vaccine, meaning that it is not administered preventatively, Van Gucht explained. Additionally, vaccination could also be considered for healthcare providers working with infected people and controlling clusters.

"A lot will depend on the evolution of the outbreak," he said. "I hope this will lie down within a few weeks, which would make a big difference in terms of vaccination. But vaccination will always be targeted, never for the general population. This situation is completely different than Covid-19."

As of 10 June 2022, 34 cases of monkeypox are confirmed in Belgium, according to Sciensano's latest figures.

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