With cases of monkeypox continuing to rise — there are nearly 12,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the contagious virus doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
Although the majority of cases have been in men who have sex with men, at least eight children across the U.S. have reportedly tested positive for monkeypox, and recently a day care worker in Illinois was diagnosed with the virus. In addition, children under the age of 8 are at a higher risk of severe complications from monkeypox, the CDC says.
That may leave some people, including parents of young children, wondering whether they need to get the monkeypox vaccine for either themselves or their kids. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the vaccine Jynneos is in limited supply and not widely available to the general public.
Here’s what experts have to say about who should get the monkeypox vaccine.
First, how is monkeypox spread?
“Monkeypox can spread to anyone through prolonged, close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, as well as through contact with objects, fabrics — clothing, bedding, or towels — and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox, or contact with respiratory secretions, through kissing and other face-to-face contact,” internal medicine specialist Dr. Henry Ng, director of the transgender surgery and medicine program and director of the Center for LGBTQ+ Care at Cleveland Clinic, tells Yahoo Life.
Although monkeypox is not considered an STI (sexually transmitted infection), it’s predominantly spreading from sexual exposure, Dr. Brandi Manning, an infectious diseases physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. However, “it can be contracted from any sort of prolonged direct contact,” she says.
Who should consider getting the monkeypox vaccine?
Experts say that, given the current limited supply of the Jynneos vaccine, “we are prioritizing those at highest risk of exposure to be vaccinated first,” says Manning.
It’s worth pointing out that there is another vaccine, ACAM2000, that’s approved for smallpox and was “made available for use against monkeypox under an Expanded Access Investigational New Drug protocol,” says Ng. Although the single-dose vaccine is more widely available, it comes with “more side effects and contraindications,” with the CDC stating that “many” adverse events were more common in young children who received the vaccine. Jynneos, on the other hand, has been administered in the U.S. “without any adverse events to date,” according to the CDC.
Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that people who should consider getting the monkeypox vaccine include “men who have sex with men (MSM) who have recently had multiple or anonymous sex partners,” along with “certain health care professionals, such as laboratorians who are performing monkeypox virus testing.”
Others, including children and adolescents, should consider getting the vaccine if they’ve had “an unprotected exposure to another person with active monkeypox disease,” says Kulkarni, adding: “Such a recommendation would be guided by public health professionals depending upon the individual circumstances of the exposure.”
On Aug. 9, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Jynneos vaccine that includes allowing health care providers to administer the vaccine to those younger than age 18 if they’re at high risk of monkeypox infection.
Should a child in day care be vaccinated against monkeypox?
As students return to school or are in day care, there is some concern about monkeypox spreading in those close-contact conditions. But experts say the current risk is low. “At the present time, the risk of monkeypox spread within day cares is believed to be quite low,” says Kulkarni. “There is no broad recommendation for vaccination of kids in day care or of parents of kids in day care.”
Ng explains that, currently, there is no monkeypox vaccine available for administration to all children. “However, there is a vaccine available to children under 18 years who have been exposed to monkeypox,” Ng says.
Will the vaccine eventually be available to more people?
If monkeypox infections continue to spread to other groups, then, yes, say experts. Manning anticipates that, as the U.S. vaccine supply increases and once those at the highest risk for monkeypox are vaccinated, “we will then be able to expand vaccinations to other groups as well, including children.”
Kulkarni agrees, saying it’s “possible that going forward, the number of people recommended for prophylactic monkeypox vaccination will increase. This will depend upon the trajectory of the ongoing outbreak in the United States and globally.”
How long before the vaccine is effective?
The Jynneos vaccine series requires two doses, given four weeks apart. Similar to other vaccines, “people are considered fully vaccinated with the Jynneos vaccine two weeks after receiving their second dose,” says Ng. But how long the protection lasts is “unknown,” Ng notes.
Why is the vaccine hard to get?
Manning says the Jynneos vaccine was created for smallpox, “in the event that we would need it.” But she says that it wasn’t widely used because “fortunately, smallpox was eradicated in the past by a successful mass vaccination effort.”
Since the smallpox and monkeypox viruses are similar — they belong to the same group of viruses known as orthopoxvirus — “we are able to use Jynneos to vaccinate against monkeypox, but it takes time to increase production,” Manning explains. “The move to switch from subcutaneous injection [into the fat layer] to intradermal injection [between the layers of skin] will allow us to increase available doses substantially without sacrificing effectiveness.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Monday that it’s making up to 442,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine available to states to further combat the monkeypox outbreak.
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.