WHO to distribute vaccines to stop monkey pox amid fears of inequality

LONDON (AP) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it is setting up a new vaccine sharing mechanism to stop monkey pox outbreaks in more than 30 countries across Africa. The move could result in the UN health service distributing rare doses of vaccines to rich countries that could otherwise afford them.

For some health experts, the initiative potentially misses the opportunity to control monkey pox virus in African countries where humans have been infected for decades, serving as another example of the disparity in vaccine distribution observed during the pandemic. of the coronavirus.

WHO Center-General Director Adanom Gebregesus said the organization was developing an “equitable access” initiative to vaccines and treatments that it hoped would be ready within weeks. The mechanism was proposed shortly after Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the United States and other countries reported hundreds of cases of smallpox last month.

The smallpox vaccine, a related disease, is believed to be about 85% effective against monkeypox. WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge said on Wednesday that he was concerned about the struggle of some rich countries to buy more vaccines without mentioning the supply of supplies to Africa.

Kluge urged governments to “approach monkey pox without repeating the pandemic”. However, he did not rule out the possibility that countries such as Britain, which currently has the largest outbreak outside Africa, could receive vaccines through the WHO mechanism.

He said the program is being set up for all countries and that vaccines will be widely distributed based on their epidemiological needs.

“Europe remains at the heart of this escalating epidemic, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85% of the global total,” Kluge said.

Some African experts have questioned why the UN health service has never suggested the use of vaccines in central and western Africa, where the disease is endemic.

“The place to start a vaccine should be Africa and not elsewhere,” he said. Ahmed Ogwell, Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa.

He said the lack of vaccines to fight monkey pox on the continent, where more than 1,500 suspected cases and 72 deaths have been reported this year, is a more critical concern than the predominantly mild disease groups reported in rich countries.

“This is an extension of the inequality we saw during COVID,” he said. Ifeanyi Nsofor, Director of Policy and Defense at Nigeria Health Watch. “We have had hundreds of monkey pox cases in Nigeria since 2017 and we are dealing with it ourselves,” he said. “No one has discussed when vaccines may be available for Africa.”

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, global health services rushed to create COVAX, a UN-backed effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. But rich countries bought most of the world supply and the COVAX program lost many targets to share the installments with the world’s poor.

To date, only about 17% of people in poorer countries have received a single dose of coronavirus vaccine. Some experts fear that the same thing could happen to monkey pox.

“Just like COVID, there is no clear path to how poorer countries can get vaccines,” said Brooke Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University who specializes in access to medicines.

He warned that as the WHO tries to determine how many vaccine doses are available, rich countries that have previously promised doses may not work together.

“Rich countries will protect themselves as long as people die in the south of the world,” Baker predicted.

On Monday, the Public Citizen advocacy group sent a letter to the White House asking if the Biden government would release the 20 million smallpox vaccines the United States promised in 2004 for use by the WHO in an emergency, such as a biological attack.

Asked about the commitment, a senior US official said the government was “exploring all options” to advance its efforts to stop monkey pox in the US and worldwide.

The official said the U.S. had returned more than 200,000 doses of smallpox vaccine to the manufacturer so that they would be available to others. The official declined to say whether the United States considers the current monkeypox outbreak to be an emergency that justifies the release of the promised 20 million vaccines.

Francois Balloux, an infectious disease specialist at University College London, said vaccination efforts in rich countries should lead to a comprehensive review of future monkeypox treatment strategies in Africa.

“Vaccination of humans should really be a priority in Africa, where there is a more nasty strain that has actually killed humans,” he said, adding that more monkey pox outbreaks are possible in the future.

“Whoever gets vaccinated in Europe is not going to solve the problem,” Balloux said.

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Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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