The UK’s top public health agency has said that vaccines against monkeypox will be offered more widely and has recommended jabs to some gay and bisexual men at higher risk of exposure.  

The UK recorded around 793 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox as of June 20, 2002 – the biggest outbreak of the disease outside Africa. 

“Although anyone can contract monkeypox, data from the latest outbreak shows higher levels of transmission within – but not exclusive to – the sexual networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men,” said the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). 

“The virus is not currently defined as a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be passed on by close and intimate contact that occurs during sex.” 

Persons Eligible For PrEP Can Get Jabbed

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation endorsed the UKHSA’s recommendation to offer the smallpox vaccine Imvanex, which is shown to be effective against monkeypox, to men who are considered at higher risk of exposure. 

A person’s eligibility for the vaccine would be similar to the criteria to determine those eligible for PrEP (HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis). This includes individuals with “multiple partners, participates in group sex or attends ‘sex on premises’ venues”. 

“Our extensive contact tracing work has helped to limit the spread of the monkeypox virus, but we are continuing to see a notable proportion of cases in 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,” said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA.

Vaccine Offer Welcomed

LGBTQI advocacy organisations have welcomed the UKHSA’s recommendation. 

“While we know anyone can catch monkeypox, we welcome the vaccine being offered to those gay and bi men who are eligible and currently at a higher risk of getting the virus,” said Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications and External Affairs at Stonewall UK. 

Monkeypox Is Not A Gay Disease, Says WHO

“It is important that gay and bi men get the vaccine when offered to protect themselves and others. Let’s help get the outbreak under control so we can all have a safe and happy pride season.” 

Though most cases have been mild and self-limiting, UKHSA said some could suffer serious illness. 

‘Monkeypox Is Not A Gay Disease’

The WHO had clarified that monkeypox is not a gay disease. Thorne Harbour Health has advised people returning from abroad to monitor for symptoms. “People who have recently returned from overseas, have attended any dance parties, sex parties or saunas – and who develop any symptoms, particularly an unusual rash or swollen lymph nodes, should seek medical advice immediately,” THH said on its website. 

THH stressed that monkeypox was not limited to gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, and could be contracted by anyone in close contact with an infectious person. 

“A large number of cases detected overseas are among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. One reason for this is their active health seeking behaviour around sexual health. Because MPXV rashes can resemble some STIs, such as herpes or syphilis, cases are being detected in sexual health clinics around the world,” THH explained.

For more information about Monkeypox, check the Thorne Harbour Health website. 


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