Mass vaccination against monkeypox not recommended: Ong Ye Kung

Globally, there are now more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore will not hold a nationwide vaccination drive against monkeypox as the public is at low risk of being infected, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Globally, there are now more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox.

In a July 1 statement, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said monkeypox cases have tripled in the European region over the past two weeks to more than 4,500 laboratory confirmed cases.

Mr Ong said that monkeypox is unlikely to become a global pandemic like Covid-19, as transmission requires close or prolonged physical contact with infectious individuals or contaminated material.

The WHO had determined that this outbreak does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern as at June 23, he noted in a written parliamentary reply on Monday (July 4).

"Unlike Covid-19 vaccination, mass population-wide vaccination with the smallpox vaccine is not recommended as a preventive strategy for monkeypox, in line with international recommendations and the global response thus far," said Mr Ong.

Although the smallpox vaccine is up to 85 per cent effective at preventing monkeypox, it has potentially severe side effects, he said.

For the general population, the risks of complications outweigh the benefits, because they are at low risk of being infected, Mr Ong added.

Replying to MPs who had asked about the infectious viral disease during Tuesday's sitting, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said monkeypox is a self-limiting illness where patients recover and largely does not cause serious illness.

It is also spreading very slowly, relative to Covid-19.

"Smallpox vaccine is available in Singapore, and can be used for, for example, healthcare workers that are at high risk or laboratory personnel that are handling such pathogens," said Dr Janil in response to Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC).

The smallpox vaccine is being used for monkeypox as the monkeypox virus is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox.

Data from the current multi-country outbreak indicated that in Europe - where the majority of recent cases were reported - 99 per cent of the cases were men, and many  were among men who have sex with men.

Also, most of the reported cases there have been among people aged between 21 and 40.

"Given that sexual contact with infected individuals appeared to be the main driver of the current monkeypox outbreak, and that transmission requires close physical or prolonged contact, the risk to the general public remains low," said Mr Ong.

Singapore has so far reported one imported case of monkeypox - a British male flight attendant who was here from June 15 to 17 and then on June 19. He tested positive for monkeypox on June 20.

Similar to the management of other emerging infectious diseases, the key to controlling the spread of monkeypox is early diagnosis and isolation of the case, contact tracing and monitoring of close contacts, and quarantining them if necessary, Mr Ong said.

To reduce spread, cases are isolated in hospital.

Their close contacts will be quarantined for up to 21 days from the last date of exposure for monitoring, and will be offered smallpox vaccines to reduce their risk of infection or severe symptoms, Mr Ong added.

Asked about efforts to reach out to more susceptible groups, Dr Janil said there is currently no evidence to suggest that the disease is sexually transmitted.

Hence, there is no specific advice beyond general recommendations such as not coming into contact with infectious individuals, and seeking medical care when infected.

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