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Rebecca Lumley
15 Jun 2022

WHO to consider whether monkeypox should be classed as health emergency

A committee will meet next week to discuss issuing the emergency designation.

The World Health Organization is set to convene an emergency committee meeting next week to assess whether the monkeypox outbreak should be classified as a health emergency of international concern. This is the highest level of warning issued by the agency and currently only applies to COVID-19 and polio.  

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that it was time to consider stepping up the response because the virus is behaving unusually, more countries are affected and there is a need for international co-ordination. 

So far this year there have been 1,600 confirmed and 1,500 suspected monkeypox cases, as well as 72 deaths in 39 countries, including those where the virus usually spreads. No deaths due to the outbreak have yet been reported outside Africa, with most deaths this year occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the WHO, the virus is fatal in 3-6% of cases.  

Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa but there have been more cases both in those countries and the rest of the world in recent months. Symptoms of the disease - which can include fever, distinctive rashes and pus-filled skin lesions - can last for two to four weeks, but often resolve on their own. It is spread through close contact.  

Next week’s committee meeting will be made up of global experts, but the WHO Director General makes the ultimate decision on whether the outbreak warrants the emergency designation. If granted, the emergency determination can help accelerate research and funding to contain the disease. 

Director General Tedros told Reuters this week that the WHO is working with partners on changing the name of monkeypox and its variants, as well as on a mechanism to help share available vaccines more equitably. 

Vaccine supply 

This week the European Union signed an agreement with Bavarian Nordic for the supply of about 110,000 doses of vaccines against monkeypox. EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the vaccines will be bought with EU funds and delivered to EU states. Doses will be allocated in proportion to the population, starting with states with the most urgent needs. 

Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic's vaccine, known as Imvanex in Europe and Jynneos in the United States, has been approved against smallpox but is not yet authorised in the EU against monkeypox. The European Medicines Agency is currently in talks with Bavarian Nordic for a quick approval of the vaccine for this use. 

Several EU countries, including Germany and Spain, have already placed their own vaccine orders.  

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