Saturday, June 25, 2022

Monkeypox vaccine to be made more widely available among gay and bisexual men

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A vaccine that has been shown to be effective against monkeypox is to be made available more widely in the UK in a bid to stem the spread of the viral infection, health officials have said.

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

The strategy says a doctor can recommend a vaccination for someone who, for example, has multiple partners, participates in group sex or attends “on-site sex”, UKHSA said.

The outbreak in the UK primarily affects gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men with no 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 Vaccination at UKHSA, said: “We continue to see a notable proportion of cases among 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 in men; only five women have been infected with the viral disease so far.

The majority of cases in the UK also involve London residents (498 out of 624 with registered home addresses), the agency added. The average age of confirmed infections is 37 years.

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

Alex Sparrowhawk, health promotion specialist at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the targeted vaccination program put in place by the UKHSA is “a positive step forward, while data still shows that monkeypox disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men in the UK.

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

Those who are eligible for vaccination are offered a vaccine that was originally developed for smallpox but also works against monkeypox, its viral cousin.

The vaccine is already being offered to pre-exposure health workers assigned to care for patients with suspected or confirmed monkeypox in serious infectious disease units and sexual health centers.

Workers in laboratories handling smallpox viruses will now be offered the vaccine under the new guidelines.

dr Ramsay said the NHS would soon be announcing details on how the vaccine will be delivered to the latest eligible groups.

“Although most cases are mild, some people can develop serious illnesses. It is therefore important that we use the available vaccine for target groups where the spread is still ongoing,” she added.

It comes as scientists warned the spread of monkeypox in the UK has yet to be stopped.

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

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

Between 2018 and 2021, 7 cases of monkeypox were detected in the UK.

The UKHSA will now publish the latest updates on monkeypox cases twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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