By Natalie Grover and Jennifer Rigby
LONDON, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Health authorities in Europe are debating whether to replicate a United States move to stretch scarce supplies of monkeypox vaccine, and the World Health Organization has asked for more data.
This year there have been 27,800 cases of monkeypox — mostly among men who have sex with men — and 12 deaths worldwide.
Supplies of Bavarian Nordic’s key injection, the only licensed vaccine to prevent monkeypox, are tight, according to the WHO and other government health agencies.
On Tuesday, the United States endorsed the use of a vial of the vaccine to deliver up to five separate doses — rather than just one — by injecting a smaller amount between layers of skin. The vaccine was designed to be injected into a layer of fat under the skin.
This so-called “dose-sparing” approach has been tried before with other vaccines, such as polio and yellow fever, but evidence is limited as to whether it might work for monkeypox.
“The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will look into the possibility of a dose-saving approach,” an EMA spokesman told Reuters, adding that the regulator would discuss the strategy with the manufacturer, Bavarian Nordic, and European countries.
The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The WHO “encourages the use of vaccines within trials that will help gather information relevant to their use in this outbreak,” a spokesman told Reuters by email.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, data collected in a 2015 clinical study showed that dose sparing could work without sacrificing the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, some governments in Europe are taking other steps to expand existing supplies. For example, the UK is offering only one injection of the two-dose regimen to people most at risk as a temporary measure to offer at least some protection to a larger number of people.
It is unclear whether either approach will result in adequate protection against monkeypox, which is usually a mild to moderate infection that causes flu-like symptoms and characteristic pus-filled skin lesions.
This viral disease has been endemic in parts of Africa for decades and was first reported this year outside those countries in May.
Adam Finn, a professor at the University of Bristol who is collaborating with WHO Europe to advise on monkeypox immunization campaigns, said it “makes sense” to “evaluate the dose-sparing approach” as vaccine depletion is a very real potential concern with the monkeypox epidemic.
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Natalie Grover; Editing in Spanish by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)