WHO chief scientist says monkeypox virus was a ‘wake-up call’

New Delhi: WHO chief scientist Somya Swaminathan said the monkeypox outbreak was a “wake-up call”. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, she explained that since 1979-1980, smallpox vaccination programs have been halted, noting that it may have helped the virus steal a rally around the world.

“The monkeypox outbreak has been a wake-up call for us, because we need to prepare ourselves for deadly disease outbreaks all the time,” she said.

The monkeypox virus is caused by the monkeypox virus, a member of the genus Osteovirus. The clinical presentation is similar to smallpox, a related orthopoxvirus infection which was declared worldwide eradicated in 1980.

The World Health Organization’s website says the vaccines used during the smallpox eradication program also provide protection against monkeypox. But newer vaccines have been developed, one of which has been approved, to prevent monkeypox.

However, Dr. Swaminathan noted that the use of the smallpox vaccine against monkeypox may be beneficial although more laboratory data is needed.

“The vaccine we have today for smallpox, the second and third generation vaccines, but there are very limited doses. Countries are stockpiling these vaccines in case of a smallpox outbreak, biological or accidental,” she said.

One company – North Bavarian and Denmark-based – has developed a monkeypox vaccine, but there is no effective data. “There is an urgent need to collect data,” she said.

Dr Swaminathan also said that Indian pharmaceutical companies including the Serum Institute of India could have a role in the packaging, marketing and distribution of the current smallpox vaccine if it is widely available.

“We have been talking about pandemic preparedness and one of the things is how quickly we can scale up manufacturing. India is going to play a very important role just because of the capabilities we have. So yes, in the northern state of Bavaria there are 16 million doses, which is part of the US stockpile. The United States has donated some of these doses to some other countries…so the thing we need to explore is whether we can get the bottling done for example at SII (Pune-based Serum Institute of India) but if we can also transfer the technology and start manufacturing at other locations.

Asked if monkeypox could be worse than the new mutant Covid virus, Dr Swaminathan said there could be no direct comparison.

She said that despite the lack of data, it is clear that Monkeypox is a different virus and will not mutate as quickly as Covid.

“We have to do the same thing – sequencing and everything. We need global data sharing,” she said. “For now, we must prevent it from turning into a pandemic. We caught it early,” she added.

So far, there have been four cases of monkeypox in India – three from Kerala and one from Delhi.

The World Health Organization, which declared monkeypox a global health emergency over the weekend, said yesterday that more than 16,000 confirmed cases of infection have been recorded in 75 countries so far.

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