The NHS is accelerating and expanding its rollout of the monkeypox vaccine in London as the infectious disease continues to spread across the capital.
A further 100,000 doses of vaccine have been ordered by the Government, with the first 20,000 due to be delivered in August for use by the NHS.
Existing stocks of the vaccine are to be diverted to London, where the vast majority of UK cases – 2,137 in total – have been reported.
Thousands of eligible people will be contacted with information on how to get the vaccine in the coming days and weeks, the NHS said.
While anyone can contract monkeypox, the virus spreads largely among gay or bisexual men, or men who have sex with men, according to the UK Health Agency (UKHSA).
At-risk individuals from this group who are candidates for vaccination include those with a recent history of multiple partners and those who engage in group sex. These criteria were established by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization.
Thousands have already received the Imvanex vaccine, which is typically used against smallpox, a viral relative of monkeypox.
However, there is still no indication that the monkeypox outbreak in the UK is abating. Sexual health charities recently warned that the infection “could become endemic unless urgent action is taken”.
To date, there have been no deaths from monkeypox. The NHS said “almost every case we’ve seen so far” has recovered quickly. The overall risk to the population from infection remains low, UKHSA said.
Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations, said officials “will be doing everything they can to ensure all beneficiaries can be protected”.
He added: “We will invite anyone who we believe has a priority for vaccination and local teams will work to ensure anyone who meets the criteria set by UKHSA knows how to get their vaccine .
“We ask people to wait to be contacted and get in touch as soon as possible if they are invited to be vaccinated.”
The NHS said the number of clinics in England offering pre-exposure vaccination will increase rapidly over the next few weeks.
In London, more than 18 clinics offer vaccinations, including Dean Street Sexual Health Clinic in Soho, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, Mortimer Market Center in Camden and Barking Hospital Outpatient Center East.
dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Vaccination at UKHSA, said: “Vaccination will continue to strengthen our response so we are urging those who are eligible for the vaccine to take it when it is made available.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “It is encouraging that the monkeypox vaccine is being rolled out rapidly in our capital.
“With London having the highest infection rate in the country, it is important that NHS London is able to prioritize vaccination of those most at risk.”
Monkeypox can be transmitted from person to person by touching clothing, bedding, or towels used by a person with monkeypox rash, touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs, or by coughing or sneezing by a person with monkeypox rash, including during sex .
Common signs of monkeypox infection include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and the development of a new skin rash.