Medical experts say the government must quickly coordinate monkeypox vaccines in Australia after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global emergency on Sunday.
They said countries should learn from the mistakes made during the COVID-19 pandemic in making vaccines available quickly.
Professor and epidemiologist Andrew Grulich of the Kirby Institute said the disease is spreading in ways “we haven’t seen before.”
“While the virus is spreading in parts of Africa from various mammals to humans, this is the first major epidemic where the virus is spreading in large numbers from human to human,” he said.
“The declaration is in fact a call to action. This is recognition that this new condition has spread significantly around the world and that Member States of the World Health Organization must respond urgently.”
Professor Grulich said Australia must act quickly to avoid epidemics occurring in Europe.
“If we act quickly in Australia, we have the opportunity to completely avoid the epidemics we are seeing in much of Europe and North America.”
Professor Grulich said the monkeypox vaccine was not yet approved in Australia and urged the Therapeutic Goods Administration to approve it “as soon as possible”.
Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Chris Moy said the smallpox vaccine could be used to prevent monkeypox, but since smallpox was eradicated in the 1980s, the vaccine is in short supply worldwide.
“There is a vaccine against it. [monkeypox]which is essentially a smallpox vaccine, and in fact there are quite a few different smallpox vaccines.
“But smallpox vaccines have not been available for widespread use for a long period of time. And the main reason is that smallpox has disappeared.
“Smallpox was a mass killer in the past, but since it’s gone, we really didn’t need to stockpile a lot of vaccines, short of preventing things like biological warfare and the like.”
He said the incubation period for patients could be several weeks.
“Once you pick it up, you have an incubation period that can even be as long as a few weeks,” he said.
“But after this period, people get high fever, severe headaches, large glands, and after that they develop a large pox on the body.
“In recent cases, they have affected the palms and soles of the feet.”
Dr. Moy said the WHO declaration should encourage governments to learn from the mistakes made during the COVID-19 pandemic regarding international coordination.
“If you’ve actually read the World Health Organization’s declaration, it’s a declaration for governments and public health officials around the world to come together and work together as they didn’t during the COVID pandemic.”
Dr. Moy told everyone in Australia who had been in contact with a monkeypox case to call their GP and ask for directions.
The current outbreak has seen more than 16,000 cases in 75 countries and five deaths in Africa.
The Australian Department of Health has stated that most people do not require treatment for monkeypox and usually make a full recovery within a few weeks.
“We are working closely with colleagues in our states and territories to ensure a rapid and coordinated response,” the department said in a July 20 statement.
The vaccine expert advisory group, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI), meets weekly on Wednesdays.
SBS has requested comment from the federal health department and ATAGI.