After the September 11 attacks, the United States considered immunizing the entire population to protect against a terrorist attack involving smallpox. “In the end, it was decided no, because of the negative consequences of vaccinating many people,” Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.
“Vaccine side effects are rare,” he added. “But once you start giving it to millions of people, they’ll start adding up.”
Newer generation vaccines like Jynneos are likely safer for large groups, and ring vaccination may be enough to contain the virus. “Hopefully monkeypox is still relatively rare at this point, and a ring vaccination strategy may be able to keep it at bay completely,” said Dr. hanage.
In addition to vaccines for prevention, the United States has obtained more than two million doses of an antiviral pill called tecovirimat, which is approved to treat smallpox in people who become infected, according to the CDC. The agency is also working with the drug’s manufacturer to develop an intravenous form.
Human monkeypox was first diagnosed in 1970 in a 9-year-old boy in a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where smallpox had been eradicated. The cases of monkeypox in the country have increased significantly in the decades since mass vaccination against smallpox ended.
In 2003, the United States registered dozens of monkey pox cases traced to infected pets. Although the virus was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys kept for research purposes, it is spread by rodents.
A week to two weeks after exposure, infected people may develop a fever, sore throat, cough, fatigue, and body aches. They also develop a distinct rash, first on the face, then on the palms and soles, and then all over the body. The lesions blister, grow, and fill with a white pus-like substance.