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German vaccine panel recommends monkeypox jab for risk groups

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German vaccine panel recommends monkeypox jab for risk groups
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference on monkeypox in Bremen on May 24th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Melissa Erichsen

Germany's Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) has issued a provisional recommendation for at-risk groups to receive a shot against monkeypox.

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Risk groups include people who have had close physical contact with someone infected with monkeypox, laboratory staff who have had unprotected contact with samples, as well as men who regularly have different male sexual partners.

According to STIKO, the smallpox vaccine Imvanex, which has already been approved in the EU, will be available for the jabs. This vaccine protects against both smallpox and monkeypox due to the similarity of the viruses, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has said. 

To achieve basic immunisation, people should get two vaccine doses with an interval of about 28 days between the jabs. For people who have already been vaccinated against smallpox in the past, a single dose is enough, according to experts. 

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The draft decision still has to go through a so-called 'commenting procedure' with the federal states and experts, so it is not yet a final recommendation.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the vaccine would be ready by June 15th. He said a plan for how vaccinations will be carried out was being developed. 

READ ALSO: Germany expects 40,000 doses of monkeypox in June

Germany has registered 131 confirmed cases of the monkeypox virus, according to authorities. 

Many of the cases known so far in Germany concern homosexual and bisexual men. The RKI said this is why this group was viewed as at-risk, and should be especially protected during the viral outbreak. 

What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) that causes small lesions on the skin, headaches and fever. It’s similar to chickenpox or smallpox, though the illness tends to be less severe than smallpox.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED - How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox virus

The virus is mostly caught through close physical skin-to-skin contact, which is why it can be spread to sexual partners (although it is not a sexually transmitted infection).

The symptoms of the disease caused by the virus are generally mild and clear up in 2-4 weeks without treatment, but can occasionally result in more serious illness if the patient has immune system difficulties. 

Monkeypox is related to smallpox, which killed millions of people every year for centuries until the disease was eradicated in 1980. However, monkeypox is much less dangerous. Most of those who contract monkeypox recover within a few weeks, and fatal illness is rare.

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