By Simon Johnson and Natalie Grover
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -The European Union is working on a common purchasing agreement for vaccines and antivirals against monkeypox, as cases of the viral disease usually endemic to Africa gather steam in Europe and beyond.
A broad consensus was reached in principle with member states for the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) to acquire medical countermeasures on their behalf as soon as possible, a European Commission spokesperson told Reuters, confirming a report by Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.
The EU is in talks to buy Bavarian Nordic’s vaccine Imvanex as well as the antiviral, tecovirimat, developed by U.S.-based SIGA Technologies, the paper said, citing Sweden’s vaccine coordinator Richard Bergstrom.
Bergstrom said that no contract with either firm had yet been signed.
“But it will go quickly. We should have a contract ready in a week or so and maybe some limited deliveries in June,” the paper quoted him saying.
A Bavarian Nordic spokesperson confirmed HERA had contacted the Danish biotechnology company regarding its vaccine.
“We’ve had several calls with HERA…we have no idea when there will be an agreement. It is not up to us to say when there will be an agreement – there are two parties involved,” the spokesperson said.
If an agreement was in fact reached, Bavarian Nordic had enough supply to satisfy demand, he added.
The smallpox and monkeypox viruses are closely related.
Bavarian Nordic’s vaccine has official European approval for smallpox, although doctors can prescribe it off-label for monkeypox.
SIGA’s treatment tecovirimat – branded as TPOXX – has European approval for smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox.
Global health officials have tracked more than 200 suspected and confirmed cases of the usually mild viral infection in about 20 countries since early May.
Symptoms of monkeypox – which can include fever, distinctive rashes and pus-filled skin lesions – can last for two to four weeks, but often resolve on their own.
The variant of the virus implicated in the current outbreak is believed to kill a small fraction of those infected.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Natalie Grover in London; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)