Society 20/07/2022

Catalonia to vaccinate high-risk groups against monkeypox as of Thursday

Health Dpt will start calling vulnerable close contacts and men who have sex other men who have not been infected and take PrEP

3 min
Microscopic image of monkeypox virus particles

BarcelonaThe Department of Health will vaccinate those with a high risk of developing the monkeypox against the disease starting on Thursday. Given the low availability of doses, the health system will call people following its own prioritisation criteria. The Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, has explained that a double strategy will be rolled out, following the Ministry of Health's guidelines, and only taking risk factors into account. On the one hand, vaccination will be offered to children, pregnant women and patients under immunosuppressive treatment who have been in contact with a case in the first four days after exposure, as well as to health professionals who were not wearing any type of protection when they attended a case. On the other hand, preventive vaccination will be started for people who have not been exposed to the virus but who are at high risk of infection: people who engage in high-risk sexual activity, mainly men who have sex with other men, who are taking prEP or who have HIV. In addition, they must be under 45 years of age (to exclude anyone previously vaccinated against smallpox), must not have suffered from the disease, must not have had contact with a positive case in the previous 10 days and must not present symptoms compatible with the infection.

The Health Department only has 1,643 vaccines available and Cabezas has specified that the doses will be injected in three health centres for the time being, all of which are in Barcelona: Hospital Clínic, Drassanes-Vall d'Hebron Centre for International Health and Transmissible Diseases and BCN Checkpoint community centre. The Ministry of Health has taken charge of distributing the vials, as it did with covid, but this time it has done so based on the population, the number of cases detected and the number of people taking PrEP or who have HIV. "We would like more vaccines, but this is what we have. I think that receiving a third of the 5,300 doses that the state has acquired is a fair distribution," Cabezas said. Although she admitted that it is clear that with these deliveries there is not enough to protect the population at risk, she asked for understanding, because the doses come from a joint European purchase agreement and the EU has only been able to access 110,000 vaccines which are to be distributed among member states.

Europe is currently the main centre of transmission of this disease and Spain is the country with the highest number of cases (3,125). Madrid is the region with most cases, followed by Catalonia, where 1,025 cases have been confirmed. These are mostly in men between 20 and 60 years of age. The Health Department has already analysed samples from 1,407 suspected or probable cases of the disease and 70% have tested positive. "Monkeypox is especially affecting young men who did not receive the smallpox vaccine back in the day," Cabezas explained. The United Kingdom and Germany are also among the European countries with the most cases, but the spread of monkeypox is global and has already entered countries with large populations, such as the United States (with 2,108 reported cases) and some countries in Asia, such as India, which has already detected the first case. In fact, worldwide the number of cases amounts to 14,179, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although there are still many unknowns surrounding the behaviour and extent of monkeypox, the medical director of BCN Checkpoint-BCN PrEP-Point and researcher at IrsiCaixa, Pep Coll, explained that the routes of transmission can be traced. Monkeypox is an infection of zoonotic origin, which is transmitted from animals to humans, and is endemic in some African countries. It is transmitted by close contact with animals, people or material contaminated by the virus, such as clothing, where it is believed the virus can persist for some time, and through the skin, mucous membranes or respiratory tract. "Although we cannot strictly consider it a sexually transmitted infection (STI), most cases have occurred in the context of sexual relations, so we can say that it is a sexually transmissible infection," the expert explained.