EU to take swift and coordinated action against monkeypox

CC – 06/2022

In just over a month, more than 1,150 cases of monkeypox have been detected in the European Union. The outbreak of the viral disease is unusual because it has already spread to about 30 countries worldwide so far. Of these, 85 per cent of infections occurred in Europe.

Coordinated measures

While the number of cases is manageable, decision makers do not want to make mistakes similar to those made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The viral infections and the relatively rapid spread are taken seriously. Both at the European level and at supranational levels, monkeypox should be tackled with rapid and coordinated action.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Clinically, it is manifested primarily by fever, skin rash as well as mental and muscular weakness. The incubation period for monkeypox is 5 to 21 days. Monkeypox is considered a less severe disease compared to smallpox which has been eradicated since 1980.The virus is typically endemic to only a few Central and West African countries, making the current trend unusual (more information from the RKI here).

HERA becomes active

As a lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, HERA – the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority – was set up and has been operating since October 2021. Its mandate in health emergencies is to coordinate cross-border action at EU level in response to health threats. Among other things, HERA is also becoming active in vaccine procurement – no longer just for COVID-19, but also for monkeypox.

EU buys over 100,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine

HERA, based at the European Commission, has purchased about 110,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine from the Danish manufacturer Bavarian Nordic. The first shipments of the monkeypox vaccine, called Imvanex are scheduled for the end of June. The delivery quantity will be proportional to the size of the population. HERA purchased them using EU funds. Distribution to Member States is a novelty here, as previous joint procurements for coronavirus vaccines were made through framework agreements. While the European Commission has negotiated with vaccine manufacturers to date, supplies have been paid for and handled by Member States.

Talks about EU approval

Imvanex is so far the only vaccine in the world already approved for monkeypox vaccination in some countries, such as the U.S. and Canada. In the EU, the vaccine has been approved against smallpox since 2013. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is in talks with the Danish vaccine manufacturer about an EU approval for monkeypox vaccine.

Some countries in Europe have already purchased vaccine doses directly from the manufacturer, including Germany. According to German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, around 40,000 vaccine doses could still be delivered in June and another 200,000 in the course of the second half of the year. The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) had last week recommended monkeypox vaccination for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected persons.

The issue is also being considered at the supranational level. WHO has convened the Emergency Committee owing to the prevalence of monkeypox cases in numerous countries. The Council meets on 23 June and is expected to decide whether the situation is a "public health emergency of international concern," as was the case with COVID-19.