Australia has secured nearly half a million vaccine doses to combat the spread of monkeypox.

Following a national cabinet meeting, Health Minister Mark Butler said 58 cases of the disease had been recorded in Australia since the global outbreak first arrived in Australia on May 19.

He announced the government has secured an agreement for the supply of 450,000 doses of a third-generation vaccine against the disease.

Here’s what you need to know about monkeypox and Australia’s vaccination program.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said 58 monkeypox cases have been recorded in Australia. (Alex Ellinghausen)

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral disease which is closely related to smallpox.

While it is typically mild, it can cause severe illness.

According to the World Health Organisation, which declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern in July, 3-6 per cent of cases end in death.

It is endemic to Western and Central Africa, but since May has broken out in other countries like Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, the US and Australia.

The monkeypox virus viewed through a microscope.
Monkeypox is a much less severe cousin of the now-eradicated smallpox virus. (AP)

Is there a monkeypox vaccine?

Because monkeypox is closely related to smallpox, some vaccines developed for the latter disease can be used against monkeypox.

In Australia, there are two approved vaccines for monkeypox: Jynneos, which is made by Bavarian Nordic, and Sanofi’s ACAM2000.

Of the two, Jynneos is the preferred vaccine due to its safety profile and because it is easier to administer.

It is the version of which the government has secured 450,000 doses.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the limited vaccine supply secured by the government would be “targeted at those at greatest risk of having the disease or having poor consequences if they were to get the disease”.

Of the 450,000 doses, 22,000 will arrive in Australia later this week, 78,000 later in 2022, and the remaining 350,000 next year.

Who is most at risk of monkeypox?

While monkeypox has exclusively been recorded in men who have sex with other men so far, Kelly warned the disease “can affect anyone”.

“That’s why we’ve got the guidance nationally to prepare and respond to this outbreak,” he said.

According to the federal health department, infants, young children, pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of becoming severely unwell if they do catch monkeypox.

Signs and symptoms of monkeypox

Monkeypox is generally associated with a rash and sores, sometimes in the mouth, but can also include symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion.

According to NSW Health, cases in the current outbreak may be harder for patients to notice.

“A notable symptom of the current outbreak is that some people with monkeypox only notice a few pimple-like lesions in the genital area or buttocks,” NSW Health says on its website.

For most people, symptoms stop after two to four weeks.

Monkeypox can be seen on a man's body
The World Health Organisation has declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. (AP)

Monkeypox treatment

In most cases, monkeypox doesn’t require much treatment.

Basic painkillers can be used to lessen symptoms, and antiviral drugs can be used in serious cases.

According to Butler, while the vaccine can be used to help limit transmission in people who haven’t been exposed to the virus, it can also be used as a post-exposure treatment for those who contract monkeypox.

How do you get monkeypox?

Monkeypox is generally spread from person to person by exposure to infected sores or rashes, or contaminated material like towels or sheets.

While it’s not a sexually transmitted infection, it can be passed on during sex due to infectious sores, blisters and rashes.

Monkeypox can also be transmitted by bodily fluids like droplets which are spread by coughing or sneezing, although this happens less frequently.

The subvariants and mutations of COVID-19

Monkeypox cases in Australia

Since the outbreak began, Australia has reported 58 cases of monkeypox.

While many of them originated overseas and were recorded in returned travellers, there has since been community transmission of the disease.

The majority of the cases have been in New South Wales, where 30 infections have been recorded by authorities.

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