There are scenes like at the beginning of the Covid vaccination campaign: those affected report queues in front of doctor's offices that reach through the stairwells to the street. Vaccination appointments are made within minutes. And people wanting to be vaccinated are calling hospitals hundreds of miles away to get one of the coveted doses. A new virus has reached Europe - and the continent again has too little vaccine.
And this is also known from Corona: vaccinations are being given elsewhere in the world. Men in New York or Tel Aviv pose on social media with their shirtsleeves rolled up, band-aids on the vaccination site and thumbs up.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared monkeypox an "international emergency". Previously, it had only imposed this status during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike the coronavirus, however, this time the world does not have to search for a vaccine first; it already exists.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US authorities have approved the smallpox vaccine from the Danish company Bavarian Nordic to protect against monkeypox. It is sold under the brand name Imvanex in the EU and as Jynneos in the US. The vaccine was developed to protect against the far more dangerous human smallpox. But it also offers a high immunizing effect against monkeypox.
However: The vaccine is in demand worldwide and the manufacturer cannot keep up with production and delivery. This is particularly noticeable in the EU: Although the epidemic, which has now reached every inhabited continent, was first discovered in Europe and the continent was long the epicenter of the infection process, the EU is lagging behind in the supply of the vaccine.
Tens of thousands have already received the vaccinations in the USA, Canada and Great Britain. In the USA alone, 320,000 doses of the vaccine have already been distributed and vaccinated. In late July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an additional 800,000 doses for vaccination after inspecting the manufacturer's manufacturing facility. The United States has ordered a total of seven million doses of the vaccine, which should not be available until mid-2023.
In the EU, doctors and hospitals have to turn away people who want to be vaccinated. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Germany and corresponding organizations in countries such as Great Britain or Israel generally recommend vaccination for men who have sex with other men and often change partners, because almost all cases currently occur in this group of people. In fact, there are far from enough cans available for this target group.
In Germany, this applies particularly to Berlin. More than half of the more than 2,600 cases reported across Germany were reported in the capital, and the approximately 9,500 vaccine doses that were available for Berlin have already been almost completely vaccinated there. One reason for the shortage: the vaccine supplied went mainly to the particularly affected federal states of Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia. But not only there and it is not intended that the vaccine will be exchanged between the federal states.
The EU already signed a contract with Bavarian Nordic on June 14, about a month after the first cases of monkeypox appeared in Europe. "This is a European health union that responds in real time to new health threats and protects its citizens," Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said when the first 5,300 doses were delivered to Spain at the end of June.
She exaggerated a bit: HERA, the EU pandemic authority newly founded in the Covid crisis, only ordered a good 109,000 cans for the entire EU in mid-June. In mid-July, she secured another 54,000 extra cans. Several thousand doses have already been distributed; The EU Commission is expecting another delivery this week.
Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the European Parliament, criticizes that this is far too little for the needs of the member states. He has urged EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides to buy more doses. “The Commission has underestimated monkeypox for far too long. The vaccine doses ordered are not sufficient at all,” says Andresen. "The EU should secure more vaccine as soon as possible."
The European Commission does not want to accept criticism of the vaccine purchase. According to the authority, the more than 160,000 cans ordered by HERA were an emergency measure. The amount was never intended to cover all the needs of the Member States. The agency also bought everything that was available at the time.
However, individual national governments had apparently relied on the EU order. Belgium, for example, where the first cases were detected in the EU in May, apparently only has the 3,000 doses of vaccine that the EU has delivered in recent weeks.
Under these circumstances, prophylactic vaccination is no longer possible, criticizes Christophe Goffard, senior physician at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels. It was all about "putting out the fire". In Brussels, only people who have had close contact with infected people get a vaccination.
From the start, the federal government did not rely on the EU order: the federal government itself ordered 240,000 doses of the vaccine from the manufacturer. Around 40,000 of them were delivered in mid-June and forwarded to the federal states within a few days, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health told WELT, the 200,000 other doses should arrive by September. However, that is not enough, the German Aidshilfe recently warned, in Germany one million doses of vaccine are needed to provide for all those who want to be vaccinated.
In view of the rapid spread and the low level of EU orders, other EU countries are also taking precautions for themselves: According to the manufacturer, an unnamed EU country ordered 1.5 million cans in mid-July, but these are only to be delivered in the course of 2023.
Smaller EU member states in particular are apparently interested in buying the vaccine together through the EU in order to achieve lower prices with the combined purchasing power. According to the EU Commission, corresponding negotiations would be ongoing. However, it is unlikely that these quantities will be available before 2023.
Basically, the monkeypox virus is far less contagious than Covid-19 and its subvariants: It is not transmitted through particles in the air, but through direct skin contact with infected areas. In most of the cases that have become known, the infected people contracted it during sex – even if monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease. Skin contact is crucial.
The disease is usually comparatively harmless. Those infected get a rash that clears up within a few weeks. However, the rash is associated with considerable pain; Those affected compare the pain to "knife stabs". In addition, scars remain.
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