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Misinformation abounds about monkeypox

PARIS (AFP) – The recent emergence of hundreds of cases of monkeypox worldwide has already triggered a flood of misinformation online, much of it modelled on conspiracy theories that have been circulating since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AFP Fact Check examined three claims that have arisen in the month since monkeypox cases began being recorded outside of areas in western and central Africa where it is endemic.

Social media posts shared across the world have incorrectly claimed that the recent monkeypox cases are a “side effect” of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The claim is linked to the fact that AstraZeneca’s jab uses a chimpanzee adenovirus vector.

But health experts told AFP that this idea “has no basis in fact”, in part because the viruses belong in different families – poxvirus for monkeypox, and adenovirus for the COVID vaccine.

The vaccine “cannot generate new viruses inside humans and cause something like monkeypox”, said an infectious disease expert at the Gachon University Gil Medical Centre Professor Eom Jung-shik.

The adenovirus is the vaccine vector, which means it is only a vehicle to transport genetic instructions to the body to trigger the production of a spike protein similar to that of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

This 1997 image provided by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the right arm and torso of a patient, whose skin displayed a number of lesions due to what had been an active case of monkeypox. PHOTO: AP

This then prompts an immune response so the body can fight a real infection.

As in other viral vector vaccines, the chimpanzee adenovirus has been altered so it does not infect humans or replicate.

An epidemiologist at the Catholic University of Korea Professor Yoo Jin-hong said the AstraZeneca claim “appears to stem from the idea that chimpanzees are broadly referred to as monkeys, but this is a very ignorant rumour with no basis in fact”.

Monkeypox was given its name because it was first discovered in a group of macaques in 1958 that were being studied for research purposes, but they are not the only animals that catch the disease.

Rodents are the most likely natural reservoir of monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Social media posts have also claimed that the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a new monkeypox vaccine from pharma giant Pfizer, which developed the first available COVID vaccine. This is false; the only vaccine for the prevention of monkeypox in the US was approved by the FDA in 2019, and Pfizer does not manufacture it.

A press officer at the FDA Abby Capobianco told AFP that the vaccine, called Jynneos, was “licensed by FDA for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox disease in adults 18 years of age and older determined to be at high risk for smallpox or monkeypox disease”.

Jynneos is not a new vaccine – the FDA approved it in September 2019.

Pharmaceutical company Bavarian Nordic, which produces Jynneos, announced on May 18, 2022 that the US government had placed a USD119 million order for freeze-dried doses.

Jynneos is the only FDA-approved vaccine for monkeypox, however data has shown that a smallpox vaccine is 85 per cent effective in preventing the disease, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.