Berlin (dpa) – To this day, the scar on the upper arm of many adults attests to this: in 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global smallpox vaccination campaign, during which billions were vaccinated.
It was the beginning of the end of the disease. It has raged for thousands of years before. A smallpox-like rash has been found in Egyptian mummies. According to the US Agency for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), three out of ten infected people have died. As early as 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox to be eradicated worldwide.
Since the end of the smallpox vaccinations – the obligation to get the first vaccination was abolished in Germany in 1976 and in East Germany in 1982 – fewer and fewer people have become immune to the smallpox virus that causes smallpox. With the currently unusual accumulation of monkeypox cases in Western countries due to a related pathogen, the issue of renewed vaccinations is emerging. There are no approved monkeypox vaccines specifically in Europe. However, experts assume that traditional smallpox vaccines provide some protection.
The old smallpox vaccine is not suitable
The federal government has stockpiled about 100 million doses of smallpox vaccine, according to a report from the Bundestag Health Committee. However, due to expected side effects, this vaccine is not suitable for use against monkeypox, according to Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.
“The older smallpox vaccine has many side effects, and it also contains reproductive viruses that can circulate in the bodies of immunocompromised people,” said Stefan Kaufmann, director emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin.
There is also a new smallpox vaccine based on further development by microbiologist Anton Mayer in Bavaria in the 1960s. The vaccine virus that has been weakened in the laboratory is used to generate an immune response against smallpox, said Herwig Kolaric, who specializes in vaccination and travel medicine in Vienna. Experts talk briefly about the MVA vaccine (MVA: Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara).
“This vaccine was used for a while in the 1960s, but it has not been widely used. It is better tolerated, the virus is no longer able to replicate,” said Kolarec, a member of the Austrian counterpart on the Permanent Vaccination Committee (Stiko).
enough Asking for a vaccine?
According to the monkeypox vaccine manufacturer Imvanex, the current outbreak is not expected to lead to a vaccine shortage. “We believe we can meet global demand without further investment in our production facilities,” Bavarian Nordic company spokesman Rolf Sas Sorensen said in an interview with DPA on Wednesday. The headquarters of the Bavarian Nordic company is located in Denmark, where production is also carried out. However, the vector vaccine was developed at the German branch in Martinsried near Munich.
The company has the world’s only approved monkeypox vaccine. It is currently possible to produce 30 million cans per year, Sorensen said.
However, approval for monkeypox is limited to the United States, where the vaccine is known as Jynneos, and Canada. Sorensen said approval in the European Union is underway. In Europe, the vaccine has so far been approved for smallpox in humans, which is believed to be extinct. In Great Britain, for example, the vaccine is also used “off-label,” that is, without proper approval, Sorensen continues.
The spokesman did not want to reveal the exact quantities of the vaccine that were sold to any country. However, he confirmed that the company is currently receiving inquiries “from many, many countries” and that inquiries will likely be received from all countries affected by the current outbreak. According to Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Germany has ordered “up to 40,000 doses” of the smallpox vaccine.
The impetus for the development of the smallpox vaccine from northern Bavaria came from cooperation with the United States government. Sorensen said that after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the US government made plans to vaccinate the entire population for fear of a smallpox attack. However, older vaccines have been associated with significant side effects. He added, “They came to us and asked us to make a better and newer generation of the smallpox vaccine.” It is a very safe vaccine that has been tested based on very strong data.
Monkeypox is more harmful than smallpox
At best, Kollaritsch sees the new vaccine as a tool for vaccinating people at high risk of exposure to pathogens, such as employees in private isolation wards. For the general public, this vaccination would be nonsense. Monkeypox is more harmful than smallpox and much less important in terms of epidemic contagion. We also have to keep in mind that very good treatment is available for affected people.”
Virologist Nowotny said that the causative agent of monkeypox is a DNA virus. This means that it is much slower than SARS-CoV-2 and hardly mutates. So variables won’t be seen so quickly.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) stated that, according to current knowledge, close contact is required for pathogen transmission, “so it can currently be assumed that the outbreak will remain limited.” Isolation or quarantine is recommended for infected people and their close contacts. From the expert’s point of view, the contacts of the infected should be closely traced. But this can be a challenge: According to the RKI, the incubation period ranges from 5 to 21 days. According to the RKI, people who have many sexual partners are more likely to get infections than others. However, anonymous contacts are likely to play a role, especially for them.
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