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monkeypox

Monkeypox vaccine supplies in Ireland 'low and limited', says HSE

An additional 16 cases of the virus were confirmed here in the past week.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Jul 2022

SMALLPOX VACCINE SUPPLIES to inoculate people against monkeypox are “low and limited” in Ireland and the EU, the HSE has said.

The Department of Health confirmed yesterday that the jab would be given to groups at high risk of infection, including men who have sex with men (MSM).

Sixteen additional cases of the virus have been confirmed in Ireland in the past week, bringing the total number of cases to 85.

The HSE is now working to roll out the vaccine to vulnerable groups, and is putting plans in place to identify those most at risk.

A HSE statement said: “Our aim is to ensure people at risk are offered a vaccine at the earliest opportunity, and that we provide the best public health protection with the supplies available.

“Ireland, along with other EU countries, is actively exploring options to increase our medium to long-term supply of vaccines.”

Community support

A meeting organised by HIV Ireland’s MPower programme heard this evening that the MSM community must support each other through the outbreak.

Fiona Lyons, a professor of HIV medicine at St James’s Hospital, told the meeting that while some people who had contracted the virus here had felt “pretty rubbish”, there have been no cases where a person’s life was at risk.

People who are concerned they may have the virus should contact their local sexual health service, she said.

Lyons said it is not known if monkeypox can be transmitted through semen, but it could possibly be transmitted through coughs if a person has lesions in their mouth.

Natasha Rafter, a specialist in public health medicine at the HSPC, said that the HSE, Department of Health, NIAC and other relevant groups will now have to “work out how to identify the people at high risk”.

Transmission

There are fears that stigma and shame surrounding the virus could prevent at-risk people from seeking treatment.

One man who told the meeting about his experience of contracting monkeypox said he felt that, because of the outbreak, the MSM community wwere being told “to just stop having sex”.

Another said: “We know from HIV how peer support is important.”

Adam Shanley, MPower’s programme manager, said the gay community have “a long history of caring for one another.”

The head of the World Health Organisation has advised men at risk of catching monkeypox to consider reducing their number of sexual partners “for the moment”.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today called for those at risk of contracting monkeypox to take steps to protect themselves.

“That means making safe choices for yourself and others, for men who have sex with men,” Mr Tedros said.

“This includes, for the moment, reducing your number of sexual partners.”

Stigma

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been asked to rename the monkeypox virus to avoid stigmatising patients who might then hold off on seeking care.

New York City’s public health commissioner Ashwin Vasan write to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today asking for the change. The city has seen more cases of the disease than any other city in the United States.

“We have a growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on … already vulnerable communities,” Vasan said.

The WHO declared the current outbreak a “global health emergency” over the weekend.

Vasan referenced the “painful and racist history within which terminology like (monkeypox) is rooted for communities of color.”

He pointed to the fact that monkeypox did not actually originate in primates, as the name might suggest, and recalled the negative effects of misinformation during the early days of the HIV epidemic and the racism faced by Asian communities that was exacerbated by former president Donald Trump calling Covid-19 the “China virus.”

“Continuing to use the term ‘monkeypox’ to describe the current outbreak may reignite these traumatic feelings of racism and stigma – particularly for Black people and other people of color, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, and it is possible that they may avoid engaging in vital health care services because of it,” Vasan said.

Anyone is susceptible to contracting monkeypox, which has long been endemic in Central and Western Africa, but so far its spread in Europe and the United States has been mostly concentrated among men who have sex with men.

The first symptoms can include a fever and fatigue, followed a few days later by a rash that can turn into painful, fluid-filled skin lesions, which may last for a few weeks before turning into scabs that then fall off.

No deaths have been reported so far in Europe or the United States.

With reporting by AFP and PA

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