A slowdown in monkeypox cases has boosted confidence that the outbreak can be eliminated in Europe, World Health Organization officials said Tuesday.
Despite limited vaccine supplies, many European countries — including France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom — have seen sustained week-on-week declines in new infections. Some parts of the United States also reported a slowdown.
“We believe we can eliminate sustained human-to-human transmission of monkeypox in the region,” Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said Tuesday in an online press briefing. “To move towards elimination in our region, we need to urgently step up our efforts.”
Kluge cited the example of Portugal, where government efforts to raise awareness have prompted people “to take precautions and modify their behavior, resulting in better health outcomes and helping curb the outbreak.”
Europe, which has confirmed more than 22,000 monkeypox cases (more than a third of the global tally), has so far authorized one monkeypox vaccine, a smallpox shot made by Danish firm Bavarian Nordic and marketed in Europe as Imvanex, but the supply is limited worldwide.
British, E.U. and U.S. regulators have authorized intradermal vaccination, which uses one-fifth of the traditional vaccine dose by injecting the vaccine under the first layer of the skin, thus increasing existing stock fivefold. In some European countries, the vaccination prioritizes LGBT sex workers who are considered especially at risk.
Monkeypox broke out in Europe in early May after reports of cases in a few countries in Africa. The WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency 10 weeks later.
The recent slowdown in European cases could be due to earlier detection and isolation, said Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at the WHO’s Europe office.
“We do have some pretty good anecdotal evidence that people — particularly men who have sex with men, who are in particular risk groups — are much more informed about the disease,” Smallwood told a briefing.
“We need to build on that … and we firmly believe that if we continue to do that, we will be able to sustain this decline,” she said.
There are early signs that rates of new infections are also slowing in some major U.S. cities gripped by outbreaks, especially New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.
The United States recorded a daily average of 337 new cases last week, down about 25 percent from two weeks earlier, according to The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day average, although officials warned against over-optimism.
“The rate of rise is lower, but we are still seeing increases, and we are of course a very diverse country and things are not even across the country,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Friday.