People deemed most at risk of contracting monkeypox will be offered a second dose of vaccine, the government has announced.
The move is spurred by new modelling which found that vaccinating 25 per cent of men who have sex with men, targeting those who have a higher number of partners, could reduce the spread of the virus by 70 per cent.
While sexual health clinics will continue to prioritise offering first doses to those believed to be at the greatest risk, some will also begin to offer eligible people a second dose to provide longer term protection, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Friday.
The proposal to offer second doses from two to three months after a first jab has been backed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), and those eligible for vaccination will be contacted by the NHS.
As of Tuesday, more than 45,000 people have received a dose of the monkeypox vaccine. Some 40,000 of the recipients were gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, who are deemed at highest risk of exposure.
Following a peak of more than 60 cases per day in mid-July, the number of infections has decreased througout August and is continuing to fall, with an average of fewer than 15 cases per day earlier this month. As of last Friday, there were 3,585 confirmed or highly probable infections known in the UK.
Analysis of wider infection trends suggests changes in behaviour in the groups most at risk may have contributed to the reduced case rates, the UKHSA said.
“It’s encouraging that we’re continuing to see fewer cases of monkeypox reported in the UK and we are grateful to everyone who has followed advice about potential symptoms, isolated as part of this outbreak or come forward for a vaccination to help limit transmission,” said Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, deputy director of public health programmes at the UKHSA.
“Prioritising vaccine stock where possible for second doses for those at highest risk will help us maximise protection and interrupt transmission. When you are called forward for vaccination, please take up the offer.”
The government agency has confirmed delivery of a further 20,000 vaccine doses from Bavarian Nordic, which is the only global supplier of the vaccine being rolled out in response to the current UK outbreak.
The vaccines are available for NHS services to order and are already being distributed, with a further 80,000 doses expected to arrive later this month, according to the UKHSA, which said that everyone at the greatest risk will have access to two doses of monkeypox vaccine in the coming months.
JCVI chair Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said that the government’s approach “will ensure the globally-limited supplies are used most effectively, continuing to break chains of transmission, as well as providing those at highest risk of exposure with longer-lasting protection”.
He added: “The use of the intradermal vaccination method at some clinics also means more doses can be drawn from the vials, helping to maximise the reach of the UK’s supplies and ensure second doses for all those eligible.
“The JCVI will keep the offer of monkeypox vaccination under review to ensure it continues to have the maximum impact on the current outbreak.”
The spread of monkeypox across Europe and North America earlier this year represented the first time that many clusters of infections had been reported outside of west and central Africa, where the virus is endemic, according to the World Health Organisation.
The first case was recorded in 1970, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the current outbreak has seen infections occur in at least 50 countries around the world.