Monkeypox: Lessons from the 'Angel of Death'

Universal smallpox vaccination may not be necessary but complacency is not an option in viral outbreaks.

An employee working on a vaccine based on the monkeypox vaccine developed by Bavarian Nordic, at a laboratory of the company in Martinsried near Munich. PHOTO: REUTERS
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(FINANCIAL TIMES) - The Angel of Death was an oddly serene term for a disease that killed millions and left survivors disfigured by "small pocks", or blisters on the skin. Smallpox, named in the 15th century to distinguish it from the "great pox" of syphilis, was officially eradicated in 1980 after a global vaccination campaign.

Now a smallpox vaccine is being wheeled out again to combat an unusual outbreak of monkeypox, a milder disease caused by a related virus. As at May 22, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recorded more than 250 confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox in the biggest outbreak seen outside west and central Africa, where it is endemic. The United Kingdom is one of the worst-affected countries, with 71 confirmed cases as at May 25. For comparison, the country saw a total seven cases from 2018 to 2021.

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