Monkeypox vaccine to be offered more widely among gay and bisexual men as outbreak grows

A vaccine shown to be effective against monkeypox is to be offered more widely in the UK in an attempt to curb the spread of the viral infection, health officials have said.

Under new guidelines published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), gay and bisexual men identified as being at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox will be offered the vaccine.

The strategy states that a clinician may advise vaccination for someone who, for example, has multiple partners, participates in group sex or attends ‘sex on premises’ venues, UKHSA said.

The UK’s outbreak has mainly been in gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men without documented history of travel to countries where monkeypox is endemic.

To date, a total of 793 cases have been detected across the UK.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said “we are continuing to see a notable proportion of cases in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. By expanding the vaccine offer to those at higher risk, we hope to break chains of transmission and help contain the outbreak.”

In new data released on Tuesday, UKHSA said 99 per cent of infections were among men; just five women have so far been infected with the viral disease.

The majority of UK cases are also among London residents (498 of 624 with reported home address), the agency added. The median age of confirmed infections is 37.

Of the UK’s 793 cases, 766 are in England, 18 are in Scotland, six in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.

Alex Sparrowhawk, a health promotion specialist at Terrence Higgins Trust, said the targeted vaccination programme rolled out by UKHSA “is a positive move forward while the data still shows monkeypox is disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men in the UK.

“We encourage everyone, regardless of your sexuality, to be vigilant about new spots, ulcers and blisters, and are continuing to closely monitor the latest data in order to play our part in providing the latest guidance and health information on monkeypox to empower the communities most affected to best protect their health.”

Thoese eligible for vaccination are being offered a jab that was originally developed for smallpox, but also works against monkeypox, its viral cousin.

The vaccine is already offered pre-exposure to healthcare workers set to care for patients with suspected or confirmed monkeypox in high consequence infectious disease units and sexual health centres.

Workers in laboratories where pox viruses are being handled will now be offered the vaccine under the new guidance.

Dr Ramsay said the NHS will soon set out details on how the vaccine will be delivered to the latest eligible groups.

“Although most cases are mild, severe illness can occur in some people, so it is important we use the available vaccine to target groups where spread is ongoing,” she added.

It comes as scientists warned that the spread of monkeypox in Britain has yet to be halted.

“At the moment there is no clear evidence that the current epidemic is coming under control,” Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian.

Previous infections in the UK had been either imported from countries where monkeypox is endemic or contacts with documented epidemiological links to imported cases.

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