The Australian government has secured 450,000 third-generation vaccines for monkeypox in what it described as a “highly contested” global market for the jabs.
- The first 22,000 doses of the vaccine will arrive in Australia this week and next week
- There are 58 cases in Australia, but health authorities say they are confident it will be controlled with the help of the vaccine
- There are more than 25,000 cases of the disease around the world, with the WHO last month declaring it a global health emergency
Speaking after today’s national cabinet meeting, Health Minister Mark Butler announced it had locked in the jabs after “27 meetings” with vaccine company Bavarian Nordic.
The vaccine can prevent the transmission of monkeypox virus and also be used as a post-exposure treatment.
Of the 450,000 doses secured, the government says 22,000 will arrive this month, 100,000 “over the course of the year” and 350,000 doses in 2023.
“The first element of the government’s actions against monkeypox is to procure the world’s best vaccines for Australians,” Mr Butler said.
“We are one of only a very limited number of countries that have been able to secure supplies of this in a highly contested market,” Mr Butler said.
More than 25,000 cases of the highly transmissible disease have been reported in 76 countries outside of the endemic areas of Africa.
Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said it was a “very painful condition” that often affected the genital region. It also caused a rash and “flu-like symptoms”.
He said it was spread by “very intimate contact”, and all 58 cases in Australia had been detected in gay and bisexual men.
“But this can affect anyone,” he said.
“It generally does not cause severe disease but there’s some deaths in Spain recently. And it can affect other people who are immunocompromised, children, pregnant women, if it gets into those populations, it can be quite severe.
“That’s why we’ve got the national guidance to prepare and respond to this outbreak. The vaccine announcement today is absolutely important but it’s only one part of the many things we’ve been working on.”
Dr Kelly said the vaccines would be targeted at those at high risk from monkeypox exposure, such as gay or bisexual men who have had sex with men in the “high-risk category”.
Australia had never seen monkeypox before the current outbreak.
Mr Butler said case numbers had spread quite quickly across the world since the first case was reported in the UK 13 weeks ago.
However, both he and Dr Kelly said they were confident with outbreak would remain under control in Australia, with the vaccines a new added layer of protection.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, the first openly gay leader of an Australian state or territory, stressed that any public messaging must not stigmatise the gay community.
“Anyone, regardless of their sexuality, who has multiple sexual partners is at risk,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight, or something in between – that’s an important message.”