Ottawa Public Health to expand monkeypox vaccination program

As of June 16, Health Canada was reporting 168 confirmed monkeypox cases across the country, the majority of them in Quebec. There were 33 confirmed cases in Ontario.

Ottawa Citizen 3 minute read June 22, 2022

Just over a week after confirming the city’s first case of monkeypox, Ottawa Public Health has administered some of the 100 doses of smallpox vaccine it received to people at high risk of contracting the virus.

Smallpox vaccines, which many countries have as strategic stockpiles, are effective against monkeypox, which is from the same family of viruses.

At Monday’s board of health meeting, Dr. Vera Etches said OPH planned to expand access to the vaccine for people at high risk, including offering clinics.

OPH confirmed the city’s first case of monkeypox on June 10. The individual infected has since recovered and their close contacts have been vaccinated. There are three additional suspect cases in Ottawa. As of June 16, Health Canada was reporting 168 confirmed monkeypox cases across the country, the majority of them in Quebec. There were 33 confirmed cases in Ontario and dozens of suspect or probable cases, most of them in Toronto.

Monkeypox is endemic to parts of West Africa, but rarely seen outside those countries. The current outbreak, which includes at least 2,100 cases in 42 non-endemic countries, is both unprecedented and spreading rapidly.

Monkeypox is milder than smallpox, which was eradicated through global health efforts in 1980.

Etches said OPH was working with groups to expand awareness about monkeypox and would continue to look at the need for vaccinations.

The majority of monkeypox cases have been in men who have sex with men and their contacts. Global health officials have warned that the infection, which causes a rash, blisters and some flu-like symptoms, can be spread by anyone through close contact and is not strictly a sexually transmitted disease.

But sexual contact has been a focus of Ontario’s efforts to prevent spread of monkeypox. The province has identified people with a recent history of a sexually transmitted infection, with two or more sexual partners in recent weeks and those who have attended venues for sexual contact over the same period as being at increased risk from monkeypox.

In Toronto, public health has held two weekend vaccination clinics for people over 18 who belong to “the community of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.”

Etches said OPH was working with the ministry of health, Public Health Ontario and local infectious disease experts to respond to any additional suspect cases and to make sure local physicians knew what to watch for.

Monkeypox symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, headache, exhaustion and rash with lesions. The rash often appears on the face and extremities a few days after the other symptoms and can spread to other parts of the body.

The AIDS Committee of Ottawa will hold an information session about monkeypox on Thursday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. with infectious disease expert Dr. Paul McPherson. For more information, contact cory@aco-cso.ca.