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HEALTH

Danish monkeypox vaccine maker ready to meet demand

As the lone laboratory manufacturing a licensed vaccine against monkeypox, Danish company Bavarian Nordic has seen its order book fill up as the usually rare disease spreads around the world. 

Bavarian Nordic premises in Hellerup near Copenhagen
Bavarian Nordic premises in Hellerup near Copenhagen. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

“The approval we got in 2019, when we only sold maybe a few hundred doses, all of a sudden became very, very relevant for international health,” the company’s vice president Rolf Sass Sørensen says with a smile at the biotech company’s headquarters in Copenhagen’s harbour.

Bavarian Nordic was caught by surprise by the disease’s sudden spread earlier this year to dozens of countries outside West and Central Africa where it had previously been generally confined.

But Sørensen says he is confident the company can meet global demand even though it only has one production facility.

“With the current demand we can easily supply the global market. We have a couple of million doses in bulk that we can put into vials and make sure that the current outbreak is handled,” he told AFP in an interview.

Bavarian Nordic has an annual production capacity of 30 million vaccine doses.

The Danish company’s smallpox vaccine, marketed as Imvanex in Europe, Jynneos in the US and Imvamune in Canada, is a third-generation serum (a live vaccine that does not replicate in the human body).

It has been licensed in Europe since 2013.

It was designed against smallpox in adults, a disease considered eradicated some 40 years ago, and requires two doses for inoculation.

According to Sørensen, the vaccine is in stock “in many countries” and can also be used against monkeypox, both before and after exposure to the virus.

“If you are vaccinated a few days after you are exposed, you can also be protected”, he explained.

After getting the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) three years ago to use its smallpox vaccine against monkeypox, Bavarian Nordic is now applying to do the same in Europe.

The European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), created by the European Commission during the Covid-19 pandemic, has already bought more than 100,000 doses for the 27 EU countries as well as Norway and Iceland.

The first deliveries are due at the end of June for those countries deemed a priority.

The United States has also filled up their stocks with an order for 500,000 doses, in addition to 100 million doses of an older smallpox vaccine previously made by France’s Sanofi but which is known to have some side effects. 

Canada and Denmark have also placed orders with Bavarian Nordic.

Other than these announcements made by the countries themselves, Bavarian Nordic — which also makes vaccines against tick-borne encephalitis, rabies, Ebola, Covid-19 and the RS respiratory virus — does not disclose which countries have placed orders.

“But I can say we have procurement requests from all over the world. We have procurement requests from the US, European countries, Middle Eastern countries, Asian countries”, Sørensen said.

The value of the contracts hasn’t been disclosed either, but for Bavarian Nordic it has clearly been a windfall: it raised its 2022 full-year outlook four times in three weeks.

Despite the rise in monkeypox cases worldwide, the World Health Organization has not recommended that countries mass vaccinate their populations at this stage.

The United States has so far recommended the vaccination of people who have been in close contact with an infected person, while France has recommended a single dose for contact cases in risk groups who were vaccinated for smallpox before 1980.

The European Medicines Agency approved a smallpox medication, Tecovirimat, for treatment of monkeypox earlier this year, but it is not yet widely available.

Most people recover from monkeypox within several weeks and the disease has only been fatal in rare cases.

Symptoms include lesions, eruptions on the face, palms or soles, scabs, fever, muscle ache and chills.

From January 1st to June 15th, the WHO registered more than 2,103 cases and one death in 42 countries. 

Europe has been the epicentre of the outbreak, with 1,773 confirmed cases, or 84 percent of the global total.

READ ALSO: Denmark to offer vaccination to close contacts of monkeypox cases

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HEALTH

Monkeypox: Denmark to offer vaccination to at-risk group

The Danish Health Authority has called for people in higher risk groups for infection with Monkeypox to be on high alert for symptoms of the virus. Vaccination against the virus will now be offered to men who have sex with men and who have different sexual partners.

Monkeypox: Denmark to offer vaccination to at-risk group

The vice director of the Danish Health Authority, Helene Probst, told broadcaster DR that people in risk groups show be “extra aware” of symptoms, with case numbers currently increasing.

“Vaccination is one part of a strategy with several elements, but it is also important to be aware of symptoms,” Probst told broadcaster DR.

Typical symptoms of Monkeypox are similar to those most experience with influenza.

Additional symptoms can include a rash in the groin area, itching and discomfort, and blisters in the mouth or on hands. Should these symptoms present, the sufferer should contact their doctor, be tested for monkeypox and avoid close contact with others.

The disease can be passed on to others once symptoms are present.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Danish Health Authority said it would now offer vaccination against monkeypox to all men who have sex with men and who have different sexual partners.

“In light of increasing infections we have seen with monkeypox in Denmark and because we now have an approved vaccine, we have re-evaluated our vaccine strategy,” Probst said in a statement.

The risk of infection with the virus is not higher for particular sexes or sexualities but high numbers of cases have been detected in the group in question, in Denmark as well as internationally.

Previously, Danish health authorities only offered vaccination to people who had been in close contact with a confirmed case. That is now changed so that all people in the specified risk group will be offered a vaccination.

Latest data from the State Serum Institute (SSI), the national infectious disease agency, show that 126 people in Denmark have contracted monkeypox since the first case was detected in the country in late May.

“We hope that through these various measures we are able to take the momentum out of infections,” Probst said.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

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