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- The U.S. government recently moved to convert smallpox vaccines it had already paid for under an existing contract to freeze-dried doses that have a longer shelf life. The Department of Health and Human Services says this is unrelated to recent monkeypox outbreaks, though some of the smallpox vaccines may be used to respond to monkeypox.
News that the United States recently purchased smallpox vaccines is raising suspicions among some social media users about the timing of the monkeypox outbreak.
‘U.S. Orders MILLIONS Of smallpox vaccines Amid Global Monkeypox Outbreak, Experts Say Remain Calm," one May 21 Facebook post said.
A man in a video in the post also said: "So the vaccine they’re ordering now, breaking news as of yesterday, was approved only a few years ago and now we’re seeing monkeypox cases? That’s kind of crazy to me."
Some commenters agreed, sharing unfounded claims that the recent outbreaks in countries where the virus isn’t typically found, including the United States, were orchestrated by the government.
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) In broad strokes, it’s generally accurate but misleading without some important context that could give readers a different impression.
The first monkeypox cases in the current outbreak were reported to the World Health Organization on May 13. Five days later, Bavarian Nordic, a vaccine company based in Denmark, announced that the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, better known as BARDA, had exercised options under an existing contract with the company to order $119 million worth of a freeze-dried version of a smallpox vaccine called Jynneos. (Freeze-dried doses have a longer shelf life, Forbes reported.)
Bavarian Nordic has worked with the U.S. government since 2003 to develop, manufacture and supply smallpox vaccines, and to date, the company has supplied nearly 30 million doses of a liquid-frozen version of the vaccine to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a press release. In 2017, BARDA awarded Bavarian Nordic a 10-year contract for a supply of freeze-dried vaccines. HHS didn’t respond to our questions about when the current contract was signed.
The two-dose vaccine, which the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2019 for adults at a high risk for smallpox and monkeypox. Both are poxvirus diseases. The vaccine is not available to the general public, but is available to people who are at high-risk for smallpox or monkeypox.
BARDA is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS. We asked HHS about the timing of the purchase, and a spokesperson for the agency told PolitiFact that it "was part of standard and ongoing preparedness efforts and unrelated to specific events."
"For many years," the spokesperson said, "BARDA has worked with industry to develop and purchase vaccines and treatments for a potential smallpox emergency, some of which may also be used to respond to monkeypox."
The order, which converts existing vaccines the U.S. already purchased into freeze-dried doses, will be manufactured in 2023 and 2024, according to Bavarian Nordic.
BARDA also has the option to buy $180 million more worth of freeze-dried doses under the contract. If it exercises that option, Bavarian Nordic would ultimately convert up to a total of approximately 13 million freeze-dried doses that the company expects would be manufactured in 2024 and 2025.
HHS did not immediately respond to PolitiFact’s question about how many of those 13 million doses would be freeze-dried under this first purchase.
The Facebook post says the United States ordered millions of smallpox vaccines amid a global monkeypox outbreak. That’s missing some important context.
The federal government moved to convert smallpox vaccines that it had already purchased under an existing contract into freeze-dried doses of the vaccine, which are more shelf-stable.
The contract predated recent monkeypox outbreaks, and the government says that it was part of standard emergency preparedness measures and was unrelated to the recent monkeypox cases. The Department of Health and Human Services has said some of the smallpox vaccines it purchased for a potential smallpox emergency could be used to respond to monkeypox.
We rate this post Half True.
Facebook post, May 21, 2022
Axios, HHS says recent U.S. smallpox vaccine order not related to monkeypox outbreak, May 20, 2022
Fortune, U.S. government places $119 million order for 13 million freeze-dried Monkeypox vaccines, May 19, 2022
Statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, May 24, 2022
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