New Zealand health officials have revealed they are stuck in the queue to order monkeypox vaccine and are unsure when it will arrive.
Monkeypox cases continue to rise globally – more than 23,000 people in at least 75 countries have caught the virus. New Zealand confirmed a third case this week.
The director of the National Public Health Service, Dr Nick Chamberlain, said New Zealand agencies “have been working to procure vaccines and antiviral treatments since we had our first case of monkeypox”, which was on 9 July.
By that point, cases of monkeypox had already appeared in more than 30 non-endemic countries.
“The vaccine is only manufactured by one company in the world and there’s a global shortage … and there is considerable international demand,” Chamberlain said. “We are part of a large number of countries who are endeavouring to access vaccine. Many have been unsuccessful.”
Unlike New Zealand, Australia has received vaccine doses already, and on Thursday announced it had secured 450,000 doses of third-generation vaccine, which can also act as a treatment.
On Thursday afternoon, associate health minister Ayesha Verrall said vaccines would be just one part of a “multi-factorial public health response”.
“We’re working to develop a public health response that includes all elements of keeping people safe,” she said, saying New Zealand was “pushing very hard” to get a vaccine.
This week, the Burnet Foundation Aotearoa and Sexual Health Society sounded the alarm on New Zealand’s lax response to the global outbreak, calling for a suite of measures.
The most at-risk community is men who have sex with men.
Verrall said she “had been very clear with officials my expectation is that they work with members of the affected community to make sure that we do have effective and human rights compliant health promotional approach”.
Meanwhile, thousands continue to catch Covid-19 every day. Health authorities, however, are still to sign off on expanding eligibility for a second booster shot, which remains unavailable to those under 50.
Opposition Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop said that was the “wrong decision”. “Australia has gone to 30-plus. I don’t understand why we wouldn’t do that here,” he said.
Previous director of health Ashley Bloomfield had said a decision on vaccine eligibility was due this week, but on Thursday the deputy director general of health, Andrew Old, said it was still being considered.
“The evidence for repeat boosters for over-50s is pretty good, in younger age groups it’s less clear,” he said.
Old said the current wave looked to have peaked, but hospitalisations and deaths may continue to rise. On Thursday, 49 New Zealanders were added to the death toll, with 140 deaths over the last week having Covid-19 as a contributing factor.