Monkeypox infections continue to rise in Canada as the U.S. and the WHO declare the outbreak an emergency, leaving some experts concerned about the risk of further outbreaks.
There have been fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases in Canada since May, as of Friday. But on a per capita basis, the number of monkeypox cases in total in Canada has surpassed the United States.
On July 27, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam encouraged those at highest risk from monkeypox to get vaccinated, saying an “urgent” response is needed to address the outbreak.
But even though monkeypox has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, tells CTV National News that there is a strong chance the infection could spread outside of that community.
“I’m not saying that we have to panic. I think we just need to be prepared that there’s a possibility that this virus could spread to the larger general public, and so we shouldn’t be surprised of that possibility,” he said.
Monkeypox often presents as a flu-like infection with a rash and spreads through close personal contact with someone who is symptomatic.
While monkeypox has been endemic to certain parts of Africa for decades, it has also been neglected, Vinh said.
And while the smallpox vaccine does protect against monkeypox, questions remain over whether those who were inoculated decades ago will still be protected from the disease today.
“And so this is something else that we need to learn, and learn pretty quickly,” Vinh said.
The Biden administration in the U.S. declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday.
This came after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern on July 23.
However, Canada has yet to make a similar declaration
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the Government of Canada “acknowledges the WHO’s determination and recognizes that the global monkeypox outbreak requires an urgent global response.”
The spokesperson said more than 80,000 doses of the smallpox vaccine Imvamune have been sent to provinces and territories.
“PHAC also continues to work closely with international, provincial and territorial health partners to gather information on this evolving outbreak and to determine the best course of action to stop the spread of monkeypox in Canada,” the statement said.
“Canada will also continue to work with the WHO and international partners to strengthen the global response to the current monkeypox outbreak.”
Asked what Canada’s current vaccine stockpile status is, and the ability for Canada to increase its supply through additional procurements, the spokesperson said the agency “does not disclose details concerning medical countermeasures held by the NESS (National Emergency Strategic Stockpile), including types or quantities, due to security implications and requirements.”
At the local level, some are making efforts on the vaccination side.
This weekend, the public health unit in Windsor, Ont., will host its first monkeypox vaccine clinic at Sunday’s Pride event.
But on Friday, Ottawa Public Health announced it had to cancel its monkeypox vaccine clinics for the day “due to an unforeseeable short-term vaccine supply issue.”
Kerry Bowman, an assistant professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, said it’s still unclear where the monkeypox outbreak is going, but he believes there is more Canada can do.
“There’s a picture of a lack of clarity as to who’s eligible and the vaccination process itself is quite limited,” Bowman said.
Health officials have recommended vaccinations for high-risk groups, including health-care workers and men who have sex with men and have recently had multiple sexual partners.
But Bowman says he is also concerned about monkeypox spreading to non-human animals.
“I would like to see it contained because my fear is that it will become endemic — embedded — that it will get into non-human species the way I’ve seen it do in Africa, it will just keep circulating and coming back on people regularly,” he said.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello, The Associated Press and CNN.
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