Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: Wiki Commons
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is recommending that gay and bisexual men be offered a vaccine against monkeypox in response to the gradual increase of confirmed monkeypox cases.
In an announcement on Tuesday (21 June) the UKHSA published a strategy suggesting that those deemed at higher risk of catching monkeypox be offered the smallpox vaccine Imvanex, which is shown to be effective against monkeypox.
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) June 21, 2022
The strategy has been endorsed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the UK's expert vaccine advisory committee.
An individual’s eligibility would depend on a number of factors but would be similar to the criteria used to assess those eligible for PrEP – but applied regardless of HIV status.
While the virus remains rare, the number of infections in the UK has risen to 793 lab-confirmed cases.
Messaging continues to emphasise that anyone can contract monkeypox though recent data of transmissions shows "a notable proportion of cases in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men".
Monkeypox is not defined as a sexually-transmitted infection but can be passed on by close contact during sex.
Dr. Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at the UKHSA, says: "By expanding the vaccine offer to those at higher risk, we hope to break chains of transmission and help contain the outbreak.
"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 continued.
Alex Sparrowhawk from the Terrence Higgins Trust, notes that the targeted vaccination programme is a "positive move forward" as the data around monkeypox shows that cases continue to disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men in the UK.
Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications at Stonewall, adds: "While we know anyone can catch monkeypox, we welcome the vaccine being offered to those gay and bi men who are eligible, who are currently at a higher risk of getting the virus.
"It is important that gay and bi men get the vaccine when offered to protect themselves and others."
According to the UKHSA’s post, NHS England is due to set out details on how eligible people can get vaccinated shortly. People are advised not to come forward for the vaccine until contacted.
Anyone with concerns is being advised to contact NHS 111 or a sexual health clinic. People should notify clinics ahead of their visit.