Federal health officials are strategically positioning vaccine doses for monkeypox across the country in response to a growing number of cases, the deputy chief public health officer said Thursday.
Dr. Howard Njoo told a news conference that there are now 26 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Canada — 25 in Quebec and one in Ontario.
The virus can cause a rash, fatigue, muscle aches, fever and headache. It's often spread by close contact with an infected person — especially an exchange of bodily fluids — but also can be spread through the air or on surfaces.
Njoo said that while the risk of infection for the general population is low, health officials are monitoring the virus closely and want to be able to deploy vaccines quickly in response to outbreaks.
"Following discussions among all the chief medical officers of health in Canada, we have decided to take a targeted approach to vaccination and treatment," Njoo said.
"We have moved quickly to pre-position limited supplies of vaccines and therapeutics from our National Emergency Strategic Stockpile, or NESS, in jurisdictions across the country."
WATCH | Government has no plans for monkeypox vaccine campaign
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has sent 1,000 doses of the IMVAMUNE vaccine to Quebec already, as well as a supply of the antiviral drug Tecovirimat, also known as TPOXX.
Njoo did not say how many vaccine doses have been sent to other provinces. He said PHAC is working with provinces and territories to determine their needs.
"We need to make sure that the vaccine can arrive in a short course should a need or demand occur in a specific province or territory, based on cases and contacts who are at high risk," he said.
Njoo said PHAC does not see the need for a mass vaccination campaign right now.
Quebec's Public Health Director Dr. Luc Boileau said earlier Thursday that the province would start offering the vaccine to high-risk individuals.
Quebec confirmed 25 cases Thursday, all of them tied to the greater Montreal area.
In a news release Thursday, the Quebec government said the province received the doses on Tuesday.
"High-risk contacts of a confirmed or probable case of monkeypox, as defined by public health authorities, may be vaccinated with a single dose of IMVAMUNE vaccine within four days of exposure," the release reads.
"The second dose may be administered only if the risk of exposure is still present 28 days later. The doses offered will be administered only following a decision by public health authorities."
Monkeypox comes from the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, which was eradicated in 1977.
Njoo acknowledged that the emergence of monkeypox in Canada may be alarming for some people, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing. He said that the viruses that cause COVID-19 and monkeypox spread differently.
"At this point, certainly based on what we've seen to date with the epidemiology, [monkeypox] seems to be confined in certain individuals who obviously have been engaged in activities involving close contact," he said. "But there doesn't seem to be any evidence of what I'd call a more general spread to the community."
Though the viruses aren't the same, transmission can be prevented by many of the same practices used to control the COVID-19 pandemic — handwashing, physical distancing and wearing a mask, especially in public spaces.
The National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg is currently completing sequencing on monkeypox samples to help understand how the virus is spreading, Njoo added.