Monkeypox vaccines only for people exposed to virus

WITH the country now up to nine monkeypox cases as of Tuesday the Government says it expects 3,500 doses of vaccines in country by the end of September, but only persons who have been exposed to the virus will be offered the shots.

Announcing the detection of two more cases, pushing the number to nine, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told Parliament on Tuesday that the vaccines have been promised through a collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), but there is no guarantee that the Jamaica will actually get the amount of doses promised.

“We can’t get it to buy; it’s not on the market. We may not receive this amount as the supply of the vaccine is in high demand, with very limited supply. We are in a line, basically, as more powerful developed countries are ahead of us — as has been the case in the past,” he said.

In order to maximise use of the vaccines, Cabinet has approved the administering of the vaccine, for now, to those who need them most first – infected persons. “So persons, based on the contact training, who would have been exposed to individuals with the virus, as opposed to pre-exposure, [will be offered doses]. These persons would include health-care workers involved in direct care of monkeypox patients, household contact of cases of confirmed cases, to include sexual partners,” he explained.

The health minister said once more doses of the vaccine are available to Jamaica the prioritisation method will be refined to include more categories of people.

PAHO has advised that additional doses will not be available here before 2023. “So we have to manage what we can get while pushing the non-clinical measures,” Tufton stressed. He also advised that the ministry is setting up isolation spaces for those with monkeypox who require hospitalisation so that they are not in contact with COVID-19 patients. “Plans are now being finalised for all health facilities, where necessary, to be retrofitted to meet the requirements for the revised procedures,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton warned that stigma and discrimination would lead to infections going undetected, stressing that, “Everyone is vulnerable, no one is immune. We do not want any impression to be given that only certain segments of the population, once exposed, can contract the virus.” He noted that monkeypox has not been designated a sexually transmitted disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the infections are more prevalent among men who have sex with men, but it also noted that monkeypox can spread through close contact of any kind, including through kissing, touching, oral and penetrative vaginal or anal sex with someone who is infectious. “People who have sex with multiple or new partners are most at risk,” the organisation says in its facts on the virus.

Dr Tufton, meanwhile, advised that school-aged children are among those who are vulnerable to transmission and outbreak. Jamaica recorded its first case of the rare zoonotic disease on July 6. Two of the nine cases are imported while the others were infected through local transmission, all in the parishes of St Elizabeth and St James. The disease is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus and its symptoms are similar to smallpox, but milder. To date, the health ministry has quarantined more than 40 people who have been identified as close contacts of confirmed cases of monkeypox.

The health ministry said, since June 2022, working with PAHO it has developed and implemented a programme of capacity development that ensures the National Public Health Laboratory and the University Hospital of the West Indies have the ability to test for and categorise the virus. These test results are produced within 24 hours of the lab receiving the samples.

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