A limited number of monkeypox vaccines will be available for vulnerable groups as soon as next week, with the federal government to announce it has secured supplies of new third-generation vaccines amid criticism it was too slow to act.
More than 25,000 cases of the virus – which is from the same group as smallpox and is spread via close physical contact – have now been recorded worldwide, predominantly among men who have sex with men. It is very rarely fatal, but in the past week, four deaths were reported in countries outside Africa, where monkeypox is endemic in some parts.
Jack Barlow, 26, is among 33 people in NSW who have tested positive, 31 of whom caught the virus abroad. He recently returned from the United States and almost certainly contracted monkeypox from a sexual partner in Provincetown, Massachusetts, who later tested positive.
Barlow is now a week into a 21-day isolation period recommended by NSW Health, which he began after developing a swollen lymph node in his groin and being alerted to his friend’s diagnosis. After the telltale rash appeared on the weekend, he was tested and returned a positive result on Tuesday.
He has mild symptoms at this stage, although the rashes are “a bit gross”. “They start off looking like a little pimple, and then they slowly form a dark centre and crust over and fall off,” he says.
On Wednesday, federal Health Minister Mark Butler flagged an imminent announcement about the “hotly contested” supply of vaccines. The minister’s office told the Herald and The Age: “We’ve secured supplies of new third-generation vaccines and will be announcing the details tomorrow.” Monkeypox is also on the agenda for Thursday’s national cabinet meeting.
Sources outside the federal government, who requested anonymity, expected a limited number of jabs would be available to target groups as soon as next week, administered by the states. Butler’s office would not confirm those details.
Last month Sydney MP Alex Greenwich wrote to Butler relaying constituents’ concerns about gay and bisexual men returning from holidays in the northern hemisphere summer, where outbreaks have been traced back to LBGTQ parties and festivals.