Hong Kong government medical advisers have proposed a prevention strategy against monkeypox in which specific groups of people, including animal care workers and laboratory staff, are vaccinated before exposure to the disease.
Experts on two scientific committees under the Centre for Health Protection reached a consensus on Thursday following an online meeting, saying that mass vaccination was not recommended for monkeypox. The panel also did not advocate the use of first- or second-generation smallpox vaccines for monkeypox.
“The experts noted that Hong Kong has not recorded any confirmed monkeypox human infection cases so far, but confirmed human cases of monkeypox have been reported in some endemic and non-endemic countries and there would be further spread of the virus,” the Department of Health said on Friday.
Currently, there are two types of vaccines available overseas for use in protecting against monkeypox – the second- and third-generations smallpox vaccines.
People exposed to monkeypox are recommended to be vaccinated within four days of first contact, or up to 14 days in the absence of symptoms, according to the experts.
They added that the pre-exposure jab could be considered for five target groups, including healthcare workers responsible for caring for patients infected with monkeypox, laboratory staff working with zoonotic pox viruses, animal care employees with a high risk of exposure, staff responsible for environmental decontamination, and other high-risk groups in the community where transmission chains were found.
The number of doses required, dosing interval and contraindication for use of monkeypox vaccines would be subject to the manufacturer’s recommendations, the experts said, adding that the monkeypox vaccine should not be given within four weeks before or after a Covid-19 vaccine was administered.
Officials previously said they were preparing to buy vaccines and medicines to treat the disease, but have not announced a detailed procurement plan and the vaccination timetable for the prioritised groups.
According to the World Health Organization, as of June 8, there have been 59 confirmed cases, 1536 suspected cases and 72 deaths reported from eight countries.
The cases were mainly, but not exclusively, identified among men who have sex with men, the experts said.
Hong Kong listed monkeypox as a statutory notifiable disease last week, along with a three-tier response plan targeting the infection. Doctors are required to report any suspected or confirmed case of monkeypox to the Centre for Health Protection.
A vaccine formulated for smallpox provides cross-protection afforded for the immune response to monkeypox, as monkeypox is closely related to the smallpox virus. Past data from Africa suggested that the smallpox vaccine was at least 85 per cent effective in protecting against monkeypox.