Supply of smallpox vaccine, which can prevent monkeypox, ‘very minimal in PH’ – health expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 24) — The country currently has “very minimal” supply of the smallpox vaccine, which may be used to protect against monkeypox, a health expert said on Tuesday.

According to Dr. Marissa Alejandria of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, this is because smallpox was already officially declared eradicated in 1980.

“Wala na masyadong production ng vaccine,” she said in a Department of Health (DOH) media briefing. “Ang binibigyan na lang ng smallpox vaccine ‘yung mga laboratory workers, those who are really handling these viruses.”

[Translation: There isn’t much production of the vaccine. Only laboratory workers and those really handling these viruses are the ones given the smallpox vaccine.]

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the smallpox vaccine can be used to help prevent monkeypox, a zoonotic disease re-emerging globally, since the viruses that cause the two are closely related.

Earlier, Dr. Ted Herbosa, a medical adviser of the National Task Force Against Covid-19, said a vaccine specific to monkeypox could also be developed, possibly even faster than it took for scientists to make COVID-19 vaccines. 

To date, no case of monkeypox has been detected in the Philippines.

The DOH assured it is intensifying border screening following reports that the disease, which has been mostly found in West and Central Africa, has made its way to various countries, including the United States, Canada, Spain, and Italy.

READ: What is monkeypox and its signs and symptoms?

Should monkeypox reach the country, the health department said it will be classified as a notifiable disease. This means all cases, as well as patients under investigation, shall be reported to the Epidemiology Bureau and concerned regional epidemiology surveillance units.

The DOH added that immediate isolation and quarantine measures will be implemented, with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City designated to be the main isolation facility.

Local government units and health facilities will meanwhile be directed to conduct immediate case investigation, back tracing and contact tracing.

Health officials said humans can get monkeypox virus from animals, including rodents and primates, or from other people through respiratory droplets, lesions, body fluids, and contaminated materials and surfaces. The virus can enter through the respiratory tract, the eyes, mouth, and broken skin.

According to the World Health Organization, the symptoms of monkeypox include a fever, intense headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes, and a skin rash or lesions. It noted these go away on their own within a few weeks in most cases, but in some individuals, the symptoms can lead to medical complications and even death.