After the September 11 attacks, the United States considered vaccinating the entire population to protect against a terrorist attack using smallpox. “Ultimately, it was decided no, because of the negative consequences of vaccinating many people,” said Bill Hanage, epidemiologist at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“Vaccine side effects are rare,” he added. “But once you start giving it to millions of people, then they’ll start piling up.”
Next-generation vaccines like Jynneos are likely safer for larger groups, and ring vaccination may be enough to contain the virus. “My hope is that monkeypox is still relatively rare right now, and a ring vaccination strategy might just be able to keep it at bay completely,” Dr Hanage said.
In addition to vaccines for prevention, the United States has purchased more than two million doses of an antiviral pill called tecovirimat, which is approved to treat smallpox in infected people, according to the CDC. The agency is also working with the drug’s maker to develop an intravenous form.
Human monkeypox was first identified in 1970 in a 9-year-old boy in an area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where smallpox had been eliminated. Cases of monkeypox in the country increased dramatically in the decades following the end of mass smallpox vaccination.
In 2003, the United States recorded dozens of cases of monkeypox that were attributed to infected pets. Although the virus was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research purposes, it is spread by rodents.
A week to two weeks after exposure, infected people may begin to experience fever, sore throat, cough, fatigue, and body aches. They also develop a distinct rash, first on the face, then on the palms and soles of the feet, then all over the body. The lesions blister, grow, and fill with a white, pus-like substance.