Monkeypox in Ireland: HSE says vaccine supplies to combat spread of disease are ‘limited and low’

Vaccination of risk groups against monkeypox virus is hampered by what the HSE describes as “limited and low” supply of the smallpox vaccine.

The smallpox vaccine is being used to combat the monkeypox outbreak in Ireland, where 85 cases – all in men – have already been reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC).

That Irish Independent believes the HSE has approximately 1,000 to 2,000 doses of the drug MVA-BN and efforts are being made to obtain further supplies through the same European Union procurement methods used for the Covid-19 vaccine.

So far, more than 19,000 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in 75 countries around the world, while the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that five people have died from the virus.

While most cases occur in men who identify as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men (gbMSM), cases in Ireland and abroad do not exclusively affect these men, the HSE says. In fact, two children in the United States were recently diagnosed with the virus, which is spread through direct and prolonged close contact with an infected person.

Ireland’s National Immunization Advisory Committee (NIAC) has recommended in recent days that the smallpox vaccine can be used to protect against monkeypox infection.

Monkeypox infection is usually a “self-limiting disease,” meaning it goes away on its own and most people recover within weeks without needing any specific treatment.

However, it can cause serious illnesses in people with very weak immune systems, in pregnant women and in very small babies.

About 10 percent of all cases in this outbreak were hospitalized for pain management, the WHO confirmed in a recent briefing.

The Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said vaccination alone will not stop the spread of the virus and that men who have sex with men should consider reducing the number of their sexual partners and reconsider starting sexual relationships with new partners to reduce their risk to limit exposure.


WHO’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said people at risk of monkeypox should reduce the number of new sexual partners. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, file

For every case reported in Ireland, HSE public health teams are tracing close contacts of people while they were infectious.

Due to the limited availability of the vaccine, vaccines have so far only been offered to close contacts after a risk assessment, as well as some healthcare workers who could be at risk of exposure through their work.

“HSE is now working in consultation with stakeholders to implement the Niac recommendation and are making plans to identify those most at risk and determine the best way to use our vaccine stock,” said an HSE spokesman.

The drug is given by injection in two doses given 28 days apart, and data suggests protection against monkeypox could last for many decades

“Our goal is to ensure that vulnerable people are offered a vaccine as soon as possible and that we are providing 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.”

It’s unclear how the HSE plans to get the vaccine to those who wish to take it once supplies become available. So far it has only been offered to close contacts of confirmed cases, but in the coming weeks prophylactic vaccines will be offered to those most at risk of infection. It is not clear whether this will be done through clinics or GPs.

Professor Sam McConkey, an infectious disease expert who has worked closely with this vaccine in research trials, says the latest move to offer it to those most at risk of infection is a “great step”.

“Although the vaccine is not as effective as the Covid-19 vaccine (85 percent effectiveness versus 94 percent of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine), it should last much longer,” Prof McConkey said Irish Independent.

The drug is given by injection in two doses given 28 days apart, and the data suggests protection from monkeypox could last “many decades,” Prof McConkey said.

The HSE’s plan to vaccinate those most at risk is supported by models carried out in the UK which predicted that the best way to combat the spread was to vaccinate those most at risk, particularly gbMSM. Monkeypox in Ireland: HSE says vaccine supplies to combat spread of disease are ‘limited and low’

Fry Electronics Team

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