The Govt is ready to protect eligible Kiwis from monkeypox – but the vaccine can’t be named or promoted

Buzz from the Beehive

Just three press statements have been issued from the Beehive this year, each in the name of Ayesha Verrall as Associate Minister of Health.

The latest, headed Monkeypox vaccination available to eligible people from next week, tells us a vaccine for people at risk of mpox (Monkeypox) will be available if prescribed by a medical practitioner to people who meet eligibility criteria from Monday 16 January.

But as TV One reported, the vaccine has not yet been approved for use here, which limits any big promotion or marketing.

It is illegal to promote or advertise unapproved medicines, the TV One report explained.

The government therefore won’t specify the name of the vaccine, even though it’s about to become available.

“That’s right, we can’t,” Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told 1News.

“But we are making sure that everyone has the opportunity for a funded visit with their medical practitioner to discuss whether the vaccine is right for them,” she said.

Nikki Turner, from the Immunisation Advisory Centre, calls this a “slightly unusual situation”.

“It is difficult to talk about a vaccine that hasn’t been approved in New Zealand,” she told 1News.

“However I’m confident to talk about this vaccine because it does have international approval. It would be really good to get New Zealand approval to make it easier to spread information about it,” she said.

Information about the status of the vaccine was fleshed out in a note to editors at the bottom of the ministerial press statement:

The vaccine can only be made available under section 29 of the Medicines Act 1981. This allows for ‘unapproved’ vaccines to be provided to individual medical practitioners for a particular patient after assessing the patient’s needs. The Act also prevents the brand name of the vaccine and volumes available being promoted due to its ‘unapproved’ status.

Advertising the availability of unapproved medicines is prohibited by section 20 of the Medicines Act 1981. This means that the vaccine cannot be advertised nor its availability promoted. It can only be offered by a medical practitioner to a consumer as a proposed medical treatment and then administered after a full informed consent process.

Verrall says 5,000 vials of the vaccine have been obtained, enough for up to 20,000 people. A further supply of additional vaccines is anticipated to arrive in Aotearoa later this year.

Those initially eligible for the vaccine include:

  • Close physical contacts of people infected with mpox, such as sexual partners and people who live in the same household.
  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) who have multiple sexual partners, and trans and cisgender women who are in intimate relationships with these eligible men.
  • Those recommended to have the vaccine by medical specialists.

There have been 41 reported cases of mpox in New Zealand as of 9 January.

The Health Navigator website says monkeypox is a viral infection that causes a rash. It is spread through close skin-to-skin physical contact with someone who has symptoms.

MPX is caused by monkeypox virus. It is called ‘monkeypox’ because it was first found in monkeys. Most people recover fully without treatment but in some cases, people can get seriously ill. 

The website further says:

There is no specific vaccine for MPX but some Smallpox vaccines can provide protection. The Ministry of Health is working with Pharmac to explore options for access to Smallpox vaccines that can be considered for the targeted prevention of MPX. 

 A few days ago Verrall issued two statements headed Stronger measures proposed to tackle youth vaping and Govt reminds international arrivals to test for Covid.

The latest statement from her should not lead us to suppose she is the only minister earning her keep over the Christmas-New Year holiday period .

Priyanca Radhakrishnan, (December 23-25), Michael Wood (December 23-25), Poto Williams (December 26-28), and Peeni Henare(December 29-31) had all served as duty ministers before the end of 2022.

This year’s duty ministers have been Stuart Nash (January 1-3), Ayesha Verrall (January 4-6), Jan Tinetti (January 7-9).

Willie Jackson is on duty from today until January 12, to be followed by Carmel Sepuloni (January 13-15).

And then (do we hear wild cheering from around the motu?) the full Ardern crew will be back on deck.

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