Israel rolls out 2nd monkeypox vaccines as US research spotlights ‘tragic’ outcomes

Following earlier limitations due to short supply, Health Ministry now urging people to complete recommended two-shot regime and expanding eligibility for vaccines

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: a patient is inoculated with the monkeypox vaccine in a vaccination clinic on August 19, 2022, in New York. (AP/Mary Altaffer)
Illustrative image: a patient is inoculated with the monkeypox vaccine in a vaccination clinic on August 19, 2022, in New York. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Israelis who have received a first dose of the monkeypox vaccine can now get a second shot, as health officials expand their previously limited immunization campaign.

The monkeypox vaccination is designed to involve two doses a few weeks apart, but when Israel received its first batches of shots in the summer, supply was limited and only one shot was given to those eligible.

As of this week, the Health Ministry is allowing — and imploring — anyone who received a first shot to now get a second. In a statement, the ministry “urges” anyone who had a first dose more than four weeks ago to get another vaccine shot at any of the four national health funds.

Experts say that the wider rollout will significantly increase protection from the disease.

“It’s very positive that the Health Ministry has updated its monkeypox vaccination policy, in accordance with the evolving scientific evidence and recommendations of America’s Food and Drug Administration,” leading epidemiologist Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, told The Times of Israel. “In parallel, the Health Ministry should strengthen complementary measures to prevent monkeypox: health promotion and community health services.”

The upgrade to Israel’s vaccination program coincided with the publication of research in the United States on the devastating effect that monkeypox can have on seriously immunocompromised patients, especially those with untreated HIV.

Illustrative image: A nurse wearing protective gear stands at the entrance of an isolation ward for monkeypox patients at a government hospital in Hyderabad on July 25, 2022. (Noah Seelam/AFP)

Scientists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data on 57 patients who were recently hospitalized with monkeypox in America. Some 82 percent of them had an HIV infection, and 12 of them died.

“Monkeypox and HIV have collided with tragic effects,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, who oversees monkeypox response for the CDC. “Today’s report reminds all of us that access to monkeypox and HIV prevention and treatment matters — for people’s lives and for public health.”

Epidemiologist Hagai Levine. (Courtesy: Hebrew University)

In Israel, 260 people have been diagnosed with monkeypox since the virus arrived in May. The majority of cases have been reported in men who have sex with men, though the Health Ministry stresses in its latest advice that “transmission involves any kind of direct or intimate contact and is not limited to people with a certain sexual orientation.”

With this in mind, eligibility for vaccination has been expanded from men who have sex with men and are at-risk because of their health history to any man who is considered at-risk if infected.

The latest Health Ministry advice addresses testing for monkeypox as well as vaccines, urging “those who have developed a fever and a blistering rash or have been in close contact with a person who is suspected of having monkeypox to contact their attending physician and get tested.”

Most Popular
read more: