Britain offers smallpox shot as monkeypox cases spread in Europe

LONDON: A smattering of monkeypox cases in Britain has prompted authorities to offer a smallpox vaccine to some healthcare workers and others who may have been exposed, as a handful more cases were confirmed in parts of Europe.

Monkeypox is a usually mild viral illness, characterised by symptoms of fever as well as a distinctive bumpy rash.

There are two main strains: The Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10 per cent mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of about 1 per cent.

First identified in monkeys, the viral disease typically spreads through close contact and largely occurs in west and central Africa. It has rarely spread elsewhere, so this fresh spate of cases outside the continent has triggered concern.

In the United Kingdom, nine cases of the West African strain have been reported so far.

There isn’t a specific vaccine for monkeypox, but a smallpox vaccine does offer some protection, a UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) spokesperson said.

Data shows that vaccines that were used to eradicate smallpox are up to 85 per cent effective against monkeypox, according to the World Health Organisation.

“Those who have required the vaccine have been offered it,” the UKHSA spokesperson added, without disclosing specifics on how many people have been vaccinated so far.

Some countries have large stockpiles of the smallpox vaccine as part of pandemic preparedness, including the United States.

Copenhagen-based drugmaker Bavarian Nordic on Thursday said it had secured a contract with an undisclosed European country to supply its smallpox vaccine, Imvanex, in response to the monkeypox outbreak.