Monkey pox: should we consider vaccinating Belgians?

A 4th case of monkeypox has been identified in Belgium. While dozens of cases have been confirmed in Europe and North America, should we consider vaccinating the population that has not yet been vaccinated?

Illustration © Belga Image

After two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and a serious lull in recent months, the health authorities of several European countries now have their eyes turned to the appearance of several cases of monkeypox on their territory. If the WHO insisted on the “low” risk for the general population, this transmission in Europe and North America, however, remains far from insignificant and surprising in the eyes of experts. To date, the virus has been identified in at least 12 countries where it is not usually present. The WHO officially counts 92 known cases and 28 other suspects.

In Belgium, four cases of contamination have been identified so far. They would be, according to virologist Marc Van Ranst, linked to the Darklands festival, which was held in Antwerp at the beginning of the month. Nothing to be overly alarmed about, however. Guest on the set ofSunday is not everyday, the Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke estimated that there was, for the moment, no reason to worry. ” But you have to be vigilant. (…) If there are people who have symptoms, you obviously have to go immediately to the emergency room“. And for good reason, this disease, usually present in West and Central Africa, remains less severe than Covid-19. And a vaccine already exists indirectly: that against “traditional” smallpox. According to the World Health Organization, several studies have shown it to be effective” 85% to prevent monkeypox“. Part of the population has already been vaccinated before the official eradication of smallpox worldwide, May 8, 1980. In Belgium, this vaccine was compulsory until 1976.

While the UN health agency says expect to see more cases in the next few days, should we vaccinate, for prevention, the rest of the population, which has not yet been vaccinated? ” The advantages-disadvantages balance of vaccination does not make us say, for the moment, that we should vaccinate“, answers the minister. And to specify: “ We have a very important strategic stock against traditional smallpox“. He did not, however, want to give precise figures on the number of doses available. The flemish socialist added that discussions were underway, at European level, for the possible purchase of a vaccine specific to this monkeypox. As for the possibility of seeing other cases emerge in our kingdom, he judges ” sure there will be more, but not an explosion” .

Vaccinate high-risk contacts?

Generally speaking, what are the health authorities saying about a possible vaccination? In a press release dated May 19the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, for its part, ” consider vaccination of high-risk close contacts after a risk-benefit assessmentProvided, of course, that smallpox vaccines are available in the country.

Some countries are also beginning to consider the first vaccinations. According to the daily El Pais, the Spanish Ministry of Health would have prepared the order for thousands of doses. In North America, Canada, also affected by an upsurge in cases, would not rule out using its vaccine stock. Closer to home, the High Authority for Health in France should, according to The cross, to decide this Monday, May 23.

And the experts? For the virologist Antoine Gessain, interviewed by France Info, vaccination is not warranted at this time. The head of the Institut Pasteur’s epidemiology unit and specialist in zoonoses believes that, given the seriousness of the disease, ” one of the few problems that this epidemic could possibly cause would be that the virus comes to affect immunocompromised people in large numbers” .

Yannick Simonin, specialist in emerging viruses contacted by France Info, does not envisage a mass vaccination scheme for this disease either. But rather, like the ECDC, ” vaccination of contact cases, that is to say the entourage of a positive case“. He also recalls that the disease ” is transmitted very little“. A more general vaccination could, according to the expert, intervene ” possibly if you notice a change in the virus” .

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