As monkeypox outbreak spreads, B.C. releases details of vaccine availability
Vaccines primarily being given to men who have sex with other men
The British Columbia government says monkeypox vaccine is being made available to eligible patients in most areas of the province in response to a growing outbreak.
A statement from the Ministry of Health says cases of the virus are low in B.C., but some community transmission has been identified, so the vaccine is being offered in the Vancouver, Coastal, Fraser, Island and Interior Health regions.
Priority is being given to patients in the Lower Mainland, where most infections have occurred, and contact tracing is underway to identify anyone else who could benefit from the vaccine.
Currently, according to the health authority websites, the vaccine is being offered primarily to adult transgender people, and men who have sex with other men.
In addition, in order to be currently eligible, people must meet any one of the following criteria:
- Had two or more sexual partners in the last three weeks.
- Received a diagnosis of a bacterial sexually-transmitted disease in the past two months.
- Attended a bath house, sex club, or park play venue in the last three weeks, or plan to go to one.
- Had anonymous sex in the past three weeks, or plan to.
- Engaged in sex work, or plan to, either as a worker or a client.
Health authorities have stressed, however, that the virus is not limited to men who have sex with other men and can be spread to anyone.
People can get tested by contacting a health-care provider or STI clinic, according to the province, and anyone who suspects they may have been a close contact of someone with monkeypox is urged to self-isolate and wear a mask.
The province says that as of Wednesday, 61 cases of monkeypox had been identified in B.C., with 54 in Vancouver Coastal, three in Fraser Health and four on Vancouver Island. No cases have been detected yet in the Interior or Northern Health regions.
Of the 14,480 doses of vaccine B.C. has received, the ministry says about half had been administered to high-risk people by Monday.
The ministry says monkeypox, a member of the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, does not spread easily between people and all identified cases in the province have involved prolonged skin-to-skin contact, which is the suspected primary source of infection.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has urged gay and bisexual men to practise safe sex and limit their number of sexual partners to lower the risk of contracting the disease.
Monkeypox can occur in two stages, with flu-like symptoms appearing first, followed by a rash, usually with sores or blisters, though many people only get the rash. Symptoms can appear five to 21 days after an exposure, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.
United States authorities say 21,148 cases of monkeypox have been reported globally, with most of the cases identified in 71 countries, including Canada, that have not historically reported the illness.
The World Health Organization director-general last week declared the escalating global outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
With files from Akshay Kulkarni