Less than a week after calling on states to “control the outbreak”, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday called the outbreak of the epidemic “unusual and worrying”.
“The situation requires a coordinated response,” he said at a news conference, announcing the June 23 convening of the WHO Emergency Committee.
Since early May, more than 1,600 confirmed cases have been reported in 39 countries, including 32 where the disease is not endemic – and no deaths have yet been reported. Commonly circulating in Central and West Africa, the virus is present in Europe, Australia, the Middle East, North America, and South America.
Relying on the help of international experts to “better understand” smallpox, WHO is also considering “renaming the virus,” said Dr Tedros, promising “announcements as soon as possible.” .
However, the priority remains “to help countries contain the transmission and stop the epidemic” through “proven” means such as “surveillance, contact and isolation of infected patients,” he said.
WHO has also tempered the growing zeal for smallpox vaccines, while the European Commission on Tuesday announced a contract with the Danish laboratory Bavarian Nordic for the supply of more than 100,000 doses.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) had already stated in early June that it was in contact “as a precaution” with this manufacturer, but wanted it to apply “as soon as possible” for an authorization for its product against monkeypox.
Read: “We don’t want to see the monkeypox virus circulating in the population.”
The United States, which relies on vaccination for contact cases, has also bought more than 300,000 doses of the serum to supplement its stock of 100 million units of another French Sanofi vaccine.
Risk and benefit assessment
But “mass” vaccination is not recommended at this stage, the WHO said in interim guidelines issued on Tuesday, stressing that “any decision to use or not to use vaccines must be made (…) on the based on a case-by-case risk-benefit assessment ”.
However, Dr Tedros said it was “essential that vaccines be available fairly where they are needed” and said his organization was working with its member states and partners to develop a mechanism for equitable access to vaccines and treatment.
A smallpox drug, tecovirimat, has just been approved by the EMA for monkeypox early this year, but it is not yet widely available. The disease usually heals spontaneously, after two to three weeks of flu symptoms followed by rashes. But these clinical signs can be “mild” and difficult to identify or even “misdiagnosed,” U.S. officials have warned.
Also read: Monkeypox: The United States wants to vaccinate contact cases
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