London-area health unit offers smallpox vaccine to men at risk of monkeypox

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The London-area health unit is holding targeted smallpox vaccine clinics at its headquarters this week for populations at highest risk for monkeypox infection.

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The Middlesex-London Health Unit clinics coincide with a larger provincial push to get smallpox shots, under the brand name Imvamune, to people exposed to monkeypox and ones who are at high risk of exposure to the virus, specifically in London’s LGBTQ community.

“As cases are being seen in more regions, health units are rolling out these targeted vaccination clinics,” medical officer of health Alex Summers said.

“We’ve got good capacity. We have vaccine available and if it’s clear we need to do some more clinics, we’ll do more.”

Smallpox, which officially was declared eradicated in 1980, is in the same viral family as monkeypox, a viral illness endemic in parts of central and west Africa.

The first-generation smallpox vaccine offers about 85 per cent cross-protection for monkeypox. There’s evidence that a smallpox shot, after exposure, can reduce the risk of developing monkeypox, Summers said.

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“There is also some potential benefit of pre-exposure prophylaxis, giving someone a vaccine before they get exposed so they’re protected if they are,” Summers said.

“There is still just emerging evidence that it will protect against monkeypox, but there is certainly lots of safety evidence around the vaccine so we’re confident using it.”

The pop-up clinics at the health unit’s Citi Plaza headquarters are not intended for everyone, Summers said.

While monkeypox can affect anyone, the majority of the infections in Canada have involved specific segments of the LGBTQ community, Summers said. The health unit is working to tailor their prevention efforts accordingly.

“The virus across Ontario has been mostly reported among gay and bisexual men. Transmission is primarily through close personal or sexual contact and that’s the community that may benefit from getting vaccinated,” Summers said.

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“These clinics we’re hosting are really intended for individuals who are 18 years old and above . . . who identify as belonging to the gay or bisexual population and have had more than two sexual partners in the last few weeks or have had another sexually transmitted infection in the last few months.”

Toronto held vaccination clinics in recent weeks targeting populations at highest risk of contracting monkeypox.

The London-area health unit is spreading the word about its smallpox vaccination clinic through community partners, including the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, Pride London and other health-care providers, Summers said.

Officials are not sure how many people will come for the smallpox shot this week.

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Monkeypox is spread through direct contact with the skin lesions or bodily fluids of infected people or animals. The virus can also be transmitted through contact with contaminated clothing and bedding and, rarely, by prolonged exposure to exhaled droplets from an infected person.

Monkeypox is much less contagious than the Omicron strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit identified the first case of monkeypox in the region on June 13. The unidentified person was doing well and not believed to have acquired the virus in the London area.

The health unit, which has been sharing information about the virus with local health-care providers since the first Canadian case was identified May 19, was notified about the monkeypox case by a doctor in the community.

The risk to the general public posed by monkeypox remains very low in London and Middlesex County, the health unit says.

jbieman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JenatLFPress

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