Gay men may have to wait a month for monkeypox vaccine

·4 min read

Gay men face up to a month-long wait for a monkeypox vaccination, health officials have admitted, as the UK’s jab stockpile is set to run dry.

Reports of supply issues over the last week, such as in Brighton the week after Pride, have now been confirmed by Dame Jennie Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

“There may be a short period, probably of three or four weeks, where vaccines may run out in some areas,” she told BBC Radio 4.

“And in those cases we are ensuring that the individuals who have come forward are checked and will be invited again, so they just need to ensure that their names are available. And as soon as the vaccine’s in we will get it into people’s arms.”

The UK has already received 50,000 doses of the Imvanex vaccine from Bavarian Nordic, and ordered 100,000 more in July, due for delivery in September.

Health bosses say that more than 25,000 at-risk gay men have now been vaccinated, as well as around 2,000 NHS and sexual health workers. There are no figures for how many individuals have received one or two doses, but first jabs are being prioritised to protect as many people as possible.

As of last week, there were just 5,000 doses left and the majority are expected to be dished out before the end of the month, the UKHSA has said.

The bumper haul of 100,000 vaccines is currently scheduled for late September, but The Telegraph understands the Government is trying to bring the delivery date as far forward as possible amid the shortages.

However, it leaves a gap of potentially up to a month where the country will have no available monkeypox vaccine appointments.

The vaccine is only made by one Danish pharmaceutical firm, with its monkeypox/smallpox jab now in high demand and a global scramble to get doses. The UK is one of many nations waiting for their next delivery, including France, Spain, the US and Canada.

Health officials estimate the jab is up to 99 per cent effective against the virus and health officials are encouraging all gay men who are promiscuous, have recently had an STI, or engage in group sex to get the vaccine as a preventative measure, and they are being encouraged to reach out to their local sexual health clinic to get inoculated.

The vaccine is designed to be given as two doses four weeks apart, but a single dose is highly effective and thought to give long-lasting, robust protection.

As a result public health bosses prioritised first doses in order to maximise the number of people to have some protection.

The UKHSA approach means it is content to drain its vaccine reserves as quickly as possible in order to build up maximum protection in the exposed community.

It also appears to be working, with the UKSHSA announcement on Tuesday that there have been just 167 new cases of the virus in the UK in the last week, with signs the outbreak is levelling off.

The total tally is now 3,195, with the majority of cases in London and just 39 in women, with patients having an average age of 36.

“The most important way to protect those who are more likely to get monkeypox and to limit the outbreak is to ensure that all the vaccines available to us are in people’s arms as quickly as possible and are building protection across the community,” Dr Harries said.

Dr Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), said: “We have been advised that the next currently planned delivery of vaccine won’t be available until late September.

“BASHH is concerned about the time it will take to receive more vaccines and will continue to work hard with national agencies to make sure the next round of delivery is as smooth as possible.”

People who are unable to get a vaccination are being urged to stay vigilant for any symptoms, such as lesions or ulcers, and to speak to their sexual health service if they feel unwell or notice something unusual on their body.

People who are known to be in close contact with cases are not obliged to self-isolate anymore, but are encouraged to take a break from sex as symptoms can take three weeks to manifest after infection.