The World Health Organization is to undertake a consultation to understand the gaps in knowledge over the monkeypox virus in a bid to develop a vaccine.

The call comes whilst there remains sustained pressure to rename the virus, which doctors say is inaccurate, discriminatory and stigmatising, and could cause some sufferers to stay away from medical help.

City authorities in New York are the latest to call for a name change after the WHO said as early as mid-June it was working with experts to come up with an alternative.

The consultation was announced by the WHO after its Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a speech on 23 July that the global monkeypox outbreak represents ‘a public health emergency of international concern’.

In the speech, Dr Ghebreyesus said: “WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high. There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low for the moment.

“So, in short, we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria in the International Health Regulations.

“For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”

The WHO stated it is ‘recommending that member states make all efforts to use existing or new vaccines against monkeypox within a framework of collaborative clinical efficacy studies, using standardised design methods and data collection tools for clinical and outcome data, to rapidly increase evidence generation on efficacy and safety, collect data on effectiveness of vaccines (e.g., such as comparison of one or two dose vaccine regimens), and conduct vaccine effectiveness studies’. 

Accurate and non-discriminatory naming of diseases, viruses and outbreaks has come under increasing scrutiny in the research world in recent years. For example, nomenclature was brought into sharp focus with complaints from both China and India among others in the terminology used for Covid-19 and its variants.