ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Australia’s only out gay head of government, has an important message for public health authorities dealing with the monkeypox outbreak. 

Barr said that it was important to get the message out that this was not some “niche disease” that only impacted gay men. 

Barr is Australia’s first and only out gay head of state. First elected as CM in 2014, Barr had led Labor to a sixth consecutive term in government in 2020. Barr married his husband Anthony Toms in 2019.

Concerning Commentary

Barr was speaking to the media following Thursday’s National Cabinet meeting where Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, state premiers and territory chief ministers met to coordinate the national response to COVID-19, foot and mouth disease and monkeypox. 

Barr said that some of the commentary around monkeypox was “concerning”. 

“This monkeypox is not a gay man’s disease. Monkeypox is transmitted by close, personal contact. So anyone – regardless of their gender or sexuality who has multiple sexual partners is at risk,” Barr said.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight or something in between and that is an important message,” the ACT CM said referring to the early messaging around HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s.  

“I do not want this to go down the path of HIV/AIDS early on, where all of the public commentary was that this was some sort of niche disease that only impacted gay men. That is not the case,” Barr said.

Barr said he had raised the issue with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and other state Premiers. “They backed me on that and they agreed that can’t be how this is presented to the community,” said the CM.

Monkeypox Vaccines To Be Rolled Out On Monday

NSW Health on Friday said that the the first monkeypox vaccines would be rolled out on Monday. 

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said those most at risk would be prioritised for receiving monkeypox vaccines, including  gay and bisexual men who have sex with men who are homeless, sex workers or drug-affected, as well as HIV-positive and immune-suppressed people and close contacts of cases.

Men who have sex with men and are planning to travel to monkeypox hotspots in the UK, Europe and the US before October 3 will also be eligible to get the jabs. 

ACON will be proving support to NSW Health for the vaccine rollout. “We know that there is a lot of concern about MPXV, particularly as we see case numbers rise overseas. So far, we are fortunate that Australia has not seen a rapid spread of the virus, however case numbers are extremely likely to increase. That’s why access to this vaccine is imperative – if we can reach people most at risk of contracting MPXV, we can help safeguard the health and wellbeing of vulnerable community members and prevent an outbreak of MPXV in NSW and Australia,” Acting CEO Karen Price said in a statement.

Monkeypox Vaccines Will Start Arriving In Australia This Week

The Australian government on Thursday announced that it had secured nearly half a million doses of 3rd generation Monkeypox vaccines JYNNEOS, with the first batch of around 22,000 doses arriving later this week and next week. Around 100,000 doses would arrive later this year and the remaining 350,000 in 2023.

ATAGI had last month identified five key risk groups for whom monkeypox vaccines are recommended including, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (GBMSM) “who are at the highest risk of monkeypox infection due to having a high number of sexual contacts”.

What Is Monkeypox?

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The current outbreak of monkeypox, outside West and Central Africa where the disease is endemic, was first reported in May 2022.

As of August 3, 2022, 25,864 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported  in around 80 countries outside of West and Central Africa

Australia has reported around 58 confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox, with all cases among gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men. All but two cases have been among persons who have returned from overseas.

“Monkeypox’s rash and flu-like symptoms are relatively mild, and in most cases, resolve themselves within two to four weeks without the need for specific treatments,” said Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly .

According to Professor Kelly, the rash first appears on the face, before spreading to other parts of the body, including palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

“However, in this outbreak it is being seen especially on the genital and perianal regions of affected people,” said Professor Kelly, adding, “The rash can vary from person to person and take on the appearance of pimples, blisters or sores. The flu-like symptoms often include fever, chills, body aches, headaches, swollen lymph nodes and tiredness.”

Monkeypox treatments like antivirals were available with the National Medical Stockpile and states and territories could access it on request, the chief medical officer had said.

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