Monkeypox: NZ unlikely to have vaccine before community transmission

Source: 1News

New Zealand is unlikely to have a supply of the monkeypox vaccine in advance of community transmission, a senior health official has said.

National director of the National Public Health Service Dr Nick Chamberlain made the admission during a media conference on Thursday afternoon.

It comes after the Burnett Foundation, the New Zealand Sexual Health Society and top sexual health researcher Peter Saxton sent a five-page letter to the prime minister saying the country has a rapidly closing window to avoid serious public health consequences.

The letter says the Government should develop a vaccine delivery plan that prioritises gay and bisexual men who are at risk of contracting the virus. These vaccines would be offered pre-emptively.

READ MORE: Sexual health experts: NZ must take action on monkeypox now

It also calls for urgent funding for sexual health clinics, so they can screen for the virus, and help treat those who test positive.

New Zealand has three confirmed cases of monkeypox, although two have since recovered.

Chamberlain said work to procure vaccines and anti-viral treatments has been underway since the country's first case on July 9.

He said the issue is the vaccine, Imvanex, is only manufactured by one company - Bavarian Nordic - and there's a global shortage.

Imvanex is also only available for national supply and can only be purchased in large volumes, Chamberlain explained.

A pharmacist holding a dose of the Imvanex vaccine for monkeypox.

"So it's unlikely that we'll have a prophylactic campaign in advance of community transmission," he said.

As other senior health officials have said in recent weeks, Chamberlain added the vaccine is an important tool, but isn't the only one to prevent community spread.

Public Health Agency Deputy Director-General Andrew Old said the country has a "really good chance to get ahead of this with broader public health approaches".

He remarked New Zealand has the same challenge as other countries right now in trying to secure doses of the vaccine, as it's not available commercially.

Old pointed out the US has a third of the supply it wants, while Chamberlain understands Australia has "only secured very small amounts" of the vaccine.

Chamberlain remarked Australia's "in the queue too around this global supply challenge". However, it was effectively "ahead of us" as it did have more cases than New Zealand and there is community transmission.

Chamberlain said the national immunization programme of Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand is developing an implementation plan for when the vaccine order arrives and is considering issues around eligibility, distribution and workforce.

He said he would like to have around 20,000 doses of the vaccine but admitted he'd take 10,000.

Chamberlain said although the risk of transmission is considered low, New Zealand will undoubtedly see more cases linked to overseas travel, and "at some stage" will see community transmission.

Speaking to the Burnett Foundation's letter, Chamberlain said health authorities are working with the community and the Burnett Foundation to ensure the "correct health promotion messages are available and accessible".

READ MORE: Monkeypox: Concern stigma will stop gay, bisexual men getting tested

He said his health service has a "dedicated team" who have a plan covering the points made in the foundation's letter.

"We will ensure they're part of the team moving forward," Chamberlain said, stating himself and Old are meeting with the foundation next week.

Chamberlain felt the letter was a "prompt rather than a criticism".

Cases of monkeypox outside endemic countries have primarily been identified amongst gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men. It has prompted fresh worries over the stigmatisation of the LGBTTQIA+ community.