The Imvanex vaccine can be used to protect high-risk groups against monkeypox, the health ministry said on Monday following Friday’s meeting of the vaccination committee.

The committee recommended that the vaccine be available for targeted use in specific high-risk groups such as healthcare professionals called upon to manage possible suspected or confirmed cases, and close contacts of a confirmed case, after exposure.

No monkeypox cases have been recorded in Cyprus but the health ministry last week approved health protocols to manage a possible outbreak.

These are in line with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidelines advising quick identification (such as tests), management, contact tracing, and reporting of monkeypox positives.

According to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the Imvanex vaccine is used to protect against smallpox in adults. It contains a live modified form of the vaccinia virus called ‘vaccinia Ankara’, which is related to the smallpox virus.

The EMA said the vaccine, which needs to be administered in two doses, is also effective against the monkeypox, adding its efficacy currently stands at 85 per cent.

Confirmed cases who did not preventively administer the Imvanex vaccine are recommended to get jabbed four days after exposure, the health ministry said.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency on Monday, the acting director of the pharmaceutical service Elena Panayiotopoulou called on people not to panic, adding that the country is fully prepared to deal with possible cases of monkeypox.

She also said that large-scale batches of Imvanex vaccines are still being manufactured in order to cope with higher demand in the EU, so there is still no set date for when it will arrive in Cyprus.

“The vaccine is not a common consumer good, as it needs to be stored and kept in appropriate conditions.

“In general, the production of a medicinal product is related to and dependent on its shelf life, storage conditions and available storage space. We cannot just produce a medicine and wait until it needs to be administered,” Panayiotopoulou said.

She finally pointed out that no one in Europe was aware of the existence of monkey pox until recently, which explains the limited availability of the vaccine.

Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980 with the last known case of the disease occurring in 1977.

The symptoms of monkeypox, which is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, include fever, headache, muscle pains, shivering, backache, and fatigue.

Typically, there are swollen lymph nodes behind the ear, below the jaw, in the neck or in the groin. This is followed by a rash that forms blisters and crusts, most frequently in the mouth, on the face, hands and feet, genitals and eyes. The duration of symptoms is typically two to four weeks.