New Zealand has had 11 confirmed cases of monkeypox to date, two of which were considered community transmission. (File photo)
Aotearoa now has community transmission of monkeypox, but a vaccine to protect those at highest risk will not be available until at least December.
On Thursday, officials announced the first two cases of MPX community transmission. Prior to this, nine reported cases were considered imported.
Te Whatu Ora (Health New Zealand) is working with Pharmac to secure supply of the smallpox vaccine Jynneos.
But given global supply constraints of Jynneos and high demand, the supplier had indicated doses were anticipated to be available for New Zealand “from December”, a Te Whatu Ora spokesperson said.
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This timeframe was subject to Pharmac and the supplier finalising the contract.
Targeted vaccination was expected to form part of Aotearoa’s response to monkeypox, alongside contact tracing and health promotion, Te Whatu Ora said.
“Information about how the vaccine will be made available will be confirmed in due course.”
Symptoms, signs and the origin of the monkeypox virus explained.
In early August, officials warned there was no “guaranteed supply” of vaccine for New Zealand and stock was not expected to arrive before community transmission occurred.
That same day, Australia’s Government announced it was one of a “limited number of countries” to secure Jynneos supply – 450,000 doses in total. The first 22,000 were due to arrive that week.
Burnett Foundation chief executive Joe Rich said it was “difficult to prepare” for the outbreak, given the vaccine shortage. However, there were still things that could be done to mitigate the risk to vulnerable communities, he said.
The foundation remained “concerned” about the number of tests being done and the support available for those who needed to isolate while awaiting results.
University of Auckland Associate Professor Peter Saxton agreed, saying health professionals needed to be testing more “so we get a clearer picture of the extent of spread”.
He said it might still be possible to “close this incursion down”, through testing, contact tracing and isolation – and stopping transmission was “critical” while Aotearoa waited for the vaccine.
To date, 252 monkeypox PCR tests have been carried out – 29 of which were done in the seven days to Thursday – from 98 people.
The test involves a swab of any skin lesions as well as a throat swab.
Currently, those tested were required to isolate while awaiting their results, which “could be a deterrent”, Rich said.
Avoiding high-risk settings and very close or intimate contact while waiting could be sufficient, he said.
Rich said the Burnett Foundation also wanted health agencies to share the criteria to access treatment tecovirimat – which, in the absence of vaccines, was “the best way” to ensure those at risk of severe illness were protected.
“Our communities have a right to know what care options are available for them.”
Rich said the foundation had seen attempts to “weaponise” the discussion around MPX against those who are vulnerable to it.
“This is never okay, and we want to remind people that stigma and discrimination can only make things worse.”
Saxton also warned against “blaming and shaming” individuals who had “done the right thing” and been tested.
All that would do was “drive MPX underground and increases the risks to everyone”, he said.
The Ministry of Health has been approached for comment.
Burnett Foundation Aotearoa has information for communities most vulnerable in this outbreak on its website: burnettfoundation.org.nz.