Global hunt underway for vaccines to combat virus outbreak

Chris McLennan
By Chris McLennan
Updated March 11 2022 - 3:01am, first published 3:00am
RAPID RESPONSE: The government's top priority is buying more vaccines against Japanese encephalitis.

The federal government will spend $69 million to control the spread of Japanese encephalitis.

There are now 15 confirmed human cases of JEV in Australia, plus at least two deaths.

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The focus of the government's emergency response will be on vaccines and mosquito management systems.

The government will spend almost $30 million buying more vaccines from across the world - enough for about 130,000 doses.

Those vaccines are expected to be available late March and into April.

The government had an emergency stockpile of its own vaccines should there be a JEV outbreak which has been depleted and then found some more in Korea.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said those new vaccine supplies would be "distributed equitably" to states and territories.

Mr Hunt said experts had prioritised people for vaccination with direct exposure or close-proximity to pigs and mosquitoes, and those with high-level occupational exposures in the risk areas.

Should the outbreak keep worsening, there has been a suggestion all outside workers, including farmers, should be vaccinated.

There are two human JEV vaccines available on the Australian market, Imojev (Sanofi-Aventis Australia) and JEspect (Seqirus).

Imojev is a single dose vaccine which supports broad use and rapid vaccination, however it not suitable for pregnant women or people who suffered serious illness.

JEspect, is given in two dose course and is suitable for most people who can't receive the Imojev vaccine.

State and Territory public health units are co-ordinating and implementing the priority vaccination program, with initial vaccinations underway.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said mosquito trapping and control is being conducted at all infected piggeries, with movement restrictions in place for properties in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

"JEV is a mosquito-borne viral disease that can cause reproductive losses in pigs and, in some cases, encephalitis in horses," Mr Littleproud said.

Commercially produced pork meat or pork products are safe to consume and there are no food safety concerns.

"Our departments are working very closely with their state government counterparts and affected animal industries to ensure a swift and coordinated response," Mr Littleproud said.

"We are working with the pig industry to implement appropriate mosquito control measures and trapping and sampling.

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"A national surveillance plan is being developed to identify and locate infected mosquitoes, birds, pigs-including feral pigs-horses and humans.

"Anyone who works with pigs or horses should be aware of this disease and protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitos.

Key elements of the control package include:

  • $28.18 million to purchase additional JEV vaccines - to be available from late March and into April
  • $17.5 million to support jurisdictions with mosquito surveillance and control activities
  • $5 million for public health communication to ensure people are aware of risk and how to prevent infection
  • $3.5 million for essential supplies to ensure sustained laboratory capacity and capability to test for JEV in humans
  • $4 million to support enhance surveillance activities, such as modelling, geospatial analysis and conducting a serosurvey to better understand and map areas with higher risk of a JEV outbreak
  • $10 million for DAWE will enable support to state and territory agriculture departments in their response to this emergency including surveillance.

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Chris McLennan

Chris McLennan

National Rural Property Writer

ACM national rural property writer based in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria. Career journalist. Multi award winner.

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