People living in Europe are crossing borders to get the monkeypox vaccine as authorities in their own countries struggle to deliver doses due to severe vaccine shortages and rising numbers of cases.
In Italy, vaccinations will begin this week. A total of 4,200 doses have been allocated to regions with high case numbers, according to the Health Ministry, with a remaining stock for emergencies. Additional doses are expected later in August.
Marco Stizioli, of the sexual health advocacy group PrEP in Italy, said the slow rollout “forced some men who have sex with men to get vaccinated abroad”.
“Where the state is unable to act, it is the ability of the community to network internationally and exchange information that makes the difference,” he said, adding that the charge Italy’s official working number of around 500 was “most certainly” underestimated due to limited testing.
Residents of several European countries have told the Financial Times that they are traveling abroad, both inside and outside the EU, to get vaccinated.
Benjamin Michelet, a Lausanne resident working in the government, went to Paris because the photo was not yet available in Switzerland.
“I feel like we were betrayed once, like previous generations of gay people were betrayed by governments during the AIDS crisis,” Michelet said. “I may be lucky enough to live in a better time when medicine is available, so if I can get it I will have it,” he said, adding that being vaccinated was also a way. to prevent the spread of the disease.
The men the FT spoke to said they used a combination of formal sources, such as government websites, and informal networks, for example Instagram posts from friends and LGBT+ community organisations, to find out where the vaccine was available. In France, these men said they were not asked for information about their place of residence.
More than 27,000 cases have been recorded since May, the vast majority among men who have sex with men.
Emer Cooke, head of the European Medicines Agency, told the FT that there were “limited stocks of vaccines”, shortages which would continue for some time. The agency recently approved an additional production site for Bavarian Nordic, the vaccine maker, and allowed imports from the United States. The vaccine, originally designed for smallpox, is known as Imvanex in Europe and Jynneos in the United States.
Cooke said it was unclear when additional shipments would be available and said the agency had begun “reviewing” a potentially suitable vaccine made by Japanese company KM Biologics. She noted, however, that few manufacturers were working in this area.
The stock of smallpox vaccine had been kept to guard against a possible resurgence of the disease, which the World Health Organization declared eradicated in 1980, for example in the form of a biological weapon. Because the monkeypox virus is similar to smallpox, the vaccine is thought to prevent the spread of monkeypox or lessen its severity, although little data is available.
Bavarian Nordic said it has increased production. It said it had delivered, “at an early stage”, to all major countries and to the EU supply mechanism, Hera, adding that EU states had ordered “many more” doses.
Other European countries are also experiencing shortages. LGBT+ groups have raised concerns about supplies in the UK, warning that the disease could become endemic unless more doses are obtained.
Jean-Michel Molina, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Paris Cité, said France had changed its strategy to maximize coverage of the first doses. He had delayed the second doses for several weeks to heighten the impact on public health, although he said there had been no shortages in France so far. A similar strategy was adopted in some countries at the start of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in 2021, when supplies were scarce.
The EMA’s Cooke stressed that while the vaccine was useful, it was “unlikely to be a game-changer”. The priority, she said, was to contain the current outbreak through the isolation and quarantine of positive cases and their contacts.