13 Jan 2023

'So many obstacles': Struggles getting mpox vaccine booking

From Morning Report, 3:00 pm on 13 January 2023
Monkeypox vaccine

Photo: AFP

Members of the LGBTQ-plus community have waited months to be vaccinated against mpox, and for some, that wait will have to be even longer.

From Monday, eligible people can be prescribed the vaccine at a dedicated clinic, but many are struggling to get a consultation.

James Halcrow was ecstatic to find out he could finally get a mpox vaccine from Monday.

"It's taken a really long time but good on them for finally getting it. I just wish they could've sped things up a bit because it's been several months now, and other countries have been rolling out the vaccine for a while now," he said.

But he found out he has more waiting to do.

Those eligible need to have a consultation with a medical practitioner at a dedicated clinic before getting the jab.

But when Halcrow rang Healthline two days ago, he was told there was only one slot available anywhere in Auckland, next Thursday, which he could not make.

"It seems like they haven't stood up enough clinics and I feel like they had enough time to do that. I don't know why there needs to be so many obstacles getting it," he said.

People wait in line for a monkeypox vaccine on 17 July 2022 at a new mass vaccination site in New York City.

Photo: AFP

Three places were offering consultations in Auckland when asked by RNZ.

Te Whatu Ora said it was planning to open clinics in 40 locations nationwide, and expected most to be operational by the end of the month.

Part of the complexity of getting the vaccine was because it has not been approved yet by MedSafe.

It's only available under section 29 of the 1981 Medicines Act, which allows medical practitioners to offer patients unapproved medicines only after a full, informed consent process.

Dr Fiona McCrimmon, a healthcare legal specialist at McCrimmon Law, said while mpox could be the first unapproved vaccine made available under the Act, the use of its powers across healthcare was not new.

"We're only allowing this use of unapproved medicines under specific circumstances. The exemption under section 29 is only available for medical practitioners, and not other prescribers.

"It also requires the patient is currently under their care, so they are requesting an unapproved medicine for a known patient for a known reason."

She believed the law was not being used to "scoot around" an unapproved vaccine, but it could indicate a more nimble approach to medicine.

"I think we have learnt to be a bit more light-footed through the pandemic, as a country, in every phase of our lives.

"We have needed to learn to respond to urgent situations urgently. We have learned how to be more pragmatic about those things, that some situations we need to respond very quickly and try have a solution." 

Mpox was formerly known as Monkeypox, but the World Health Organisation announced a change last year after complaints over racist and stigmatising language linked to the virus's name.