A senior health expert said Thursday that mass vaccines aren’t needed to battle growing cases of monkeypox in Canada, but individuals should keep their distance from others to avoid contracting the illness.
Persons may avoid infection by “maintaining physical distance from people outside their houses,” according to Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo, because the virus “doesn’t discriminate” and can be communicated through close contact with an infected person.
“As well, wearing masks, concealing coughs and sneezes, and washing hands often remain vital, particularly in public settings,” he told reporters.
As of Thursday, 26 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Toronto confirmed its first case on Thursday, while all others are in Quebec, which is investigating dozens more suspected infections.
Njoo said 1,000 smallpox vaccine doses have been shipped to Quebec to combat the outbreak after the province requested them. He said PHAC is looking at targeted vaccinations for other provinces that need doses, with active discussions underway with provincial health authorities.
“We’re not envisaging at this point that it would be a mass vaccination campaign,” Njoo told reporters.
“We are in active conversations with the authorities” in provinces about what they need, he added, with discussions focused on whether to ship doses out preemptively or once cases are confirmed.
The goal in that case would be to get doses to provinces as rapidly as possible, Njoo said.
2:01 Health officials urge calm as more monkeypox cases emerge in CanadaHealth officials urge calm as more monkeypox cases emerge in Canada
Although Canada already has a good amount of supply in its strategic reserve, he said discussions are underway with manufacturers to produce more doses if necessary.
Health officials in Quebec said earlier in the day that vaccine doses will be administered to people who have had close contact or who live with those who have presumed cases of the disease, with shots rolling out as soon as Friday.
Those already infected with the virus will not receive the vaccine as it won’t make a difference, those officials said. However, Njoo said Quebec has also received shipments of tecovirimat, an antiviral treatment, that will also be distributed as needed.
Monkeypox is a rare disease that comes from the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, which the World Health Organization declared eradicated around the globe in 1980, but monkeypox generally does not spread easily between people and is transmitted through prolonged close contact.
Njoo said because Canada stopped vaccinating for smallpox that same year, “the whole Canadian population is susceptible to it,” despite most cases in the country and others appearing to be spread through sexual contact between men.
He said public health officials are conscious about the potential of stigmatization and discrimination among that community, and stressed that monkeypox still has the potential to infect anyone.
At the same time, he said PHAC is working with community leaders and advocacy groups to increase awareness “among those at increased risk.”
The virus is typically spread through close contact, including respiratory droplets, and through contact with shared objects.
Monkeypox symptoms consist primarily of skin lesions on the mouth and genitals, and they can also include fever and headaches, as well as joint and muscle pain. People who have suspected cases, as well as those who live with them, should isolate, wear a mask, cover their lesions and avoid sharing clothing, bedding or utensils with others.