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First shipment of 5,600 monkeypox vaccine doses arrives in Israel ahead of rollout

Health minister says further shots ‘on their way’; priority will be given to men born after 1980 who have HIV, are on HIV pre-exposure meds, or have contracted an STD this year

The first shipment of monkeypox doses arrives in Israel, July 27, 2022 (Health Ministry)
The first shipment of monkeypox doses arrives in Israel, July 27, 2022 (Health Ministry)

An initial shipment of 5,600 doses of the monkeypox vaccine arrived in Israel early Wednesday morning, with the first shots expected to be rolled out by the weekend to those considered most at risk of contracting the virus.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said in a statement that further doses of the vaccine were “on their way.”

“The CEO of the vaccine manufacturer has responded to my request and significantly increased the number of doses [sent] to Israel,” Horowitz said.

“We have also expanded the number of laboratories, formulated guidelines, and the health funds are preparing to vaccinate people deemed to be at high risk in the coming days,” Horowitz tweeted.

The Health Ministry said that the vaccines would be distributed to health funds in the coming days ahead of the rollout.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the ministry believes that there are many undiagnosed cases of monkeypox in Israel, and is therefore expanding testing capabilities.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 3, 2022 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

According to a Monday letter from the Health Ministry to Israel’s four health maintenance organizations and the heads of Israeli hospitals, highest priority for the vaccine will be given to men born after 1980 who are HIV positive or are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis medication to reduce their chance of contracting HIV. (Israel vaccinated the general population against smallpox until 1980 — although the military continued for a number of years — and that vaccine can provide protection against monkeypox.)

In addition, those who have tested positive for syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhea since January 1 of this year will be considered a high priority to receive the vaccine.

The ministry also noted that those who have been exposed to the virus but don’t fit in one of the relevant categories will be considered for the vaccine in certain cases.

The vaccine is only approved for those over age 18, although the ministry said that in certain cases it may weigh its use in children and teenagers following exposure, and that early data shows the vaccine is effective in those cases.

The World Health Organization said Saturday that the expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global emergency, a declaration that could worsen the scramble for scarce vaccines.

However, further shipments of the vaccine, totaling 10,000 doses so far, are expected to arrive in Israel in the coming weeks.

Illustrative — People wait in line to receive the monkeypox vaccine before the opening of a new mass vaccination site at the Bushwick Education Campus in Brooklyn on July 17, 2022, in New York City (Kena Betancur / AFP)

Dr. Roy Zucker, a specialist in infectious diseases and head of LGBTQ medicine at the Clalit health fund, told the Kan public broadcaster on Monday that action needed to be taken to prevent a wider outbreak of the infection, which is currently mainly spreading between gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

“There are 105 diagnosed cases in Israel. This is a low number at this stage and if we act correctly we can prevent a larger outbreak by focusing efforts and taking preventive action based on rapid diagnosis,” he said.

“There should be preventative treatment by isolating those infected and the vaccination of at-risk populations. Patients with findings that include new blisters, a rash or enlarged lymph nodes are recommended to consult with a doctor who will refer for a test if appropriate,” he said.

Israel reported its first monkeypox case in May — in a man who apparently contracted it abroad — and communal spread was first detected last month. Cases are raising concerns, as the virus is contagious, and while often mild, can cause serious illness.

Monkeypox is characterized by a rash that can look like pimples or blisters, from which the virus can be transmitted, normally through skin-to-skin contact.

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