Beginning in 1958 and continuing until 1977, the United States, in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), initiated and ended a program to eradicate smallpox from the planet.
When the program was completed and declared a success, the vaccinations came to an end.
For everyone who received that vaccination, there’s a tell-tale sign: an oval shaped or round scar on the exterior bicep, typically on the right arm.
For some people it can serve as an automatic identifier for youthful apearing Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. For those who received the vaccine, there’s an added bonus that was unexpected: potential immunity to the monkeypox virus.
You heard that right. If you’re over 50, chances are you were vaccinated with the smallpox virus and carry some immunity to the current disease du jour. In some cases potentially as high as 85 percent. But not for everyone. The usual challenges such as health issues, immune system capability and age can factor into your potential immune possibilities to monkeypox. Some can be immune, while others will, at least, become less sick if infected with the disease.
According to Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and Dean of the National school of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, the global eradication of smallpox may have allowed a stronger hold and faster spread for monkeypox.
“Monkeypox is believed to have become more prevalent after we stopped vaccinating populations against smallpox,” Hotex said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “We pretty much stopped or halted the smallpox vaccine programs, and that was actually enabling for monkeypox to emerge among human populations because immunity was wearing off.”
Monkeypox and smallpox are caused by orthopax viruses. The diseases are so much alike the same vaccine is used to treat both viruses. Known as Jynneos, it is currently available for patients who are considered to be at high risk of contracting the monkeypox virus.
“Mecklenburg County is the epicenter of monkeypox in North Carolina,” says
Wes Thompson, the director of HIV Medical Services at Amity Medical Group, which frequently offers health treatment services for men who have sex with men. As of August 5, the number of infected reported in Mecklenburg County was around 60.
“Most of the people who have been infected with monkeypox are men who have sex with men,” Thompson explains. “Some of them identify as gay but not all.”
Thompson says he believes the virus is transmitted through extended exposure to the bodily fluids of another individual who is infected.
“This outbreak, which has spread across Europe and to the United States, has been traced back to a … party in Ibiza,” he continues.
As for individuals who were vaccinated during the smallpox eradication program, he concedes immunity is possible, but some limited immunity is more likely.
“If someone became infected who had received that vaccine, they would probably be less ill, and fare better than individuals who had received no kind of treatment.
Thompson confirms the vaccination is available at Amity Medical Group for patients who believe they are in a high risk category. For more details on vaccination, contact Amity Medical by phone at 704.208.4134 or visit their website.