Monkeypox Vaccine Supplies Are Running Low. So What Happens Now?

The UK's leading health body has confirmed it's running out of the vaccine, just as cases start to plateau.
Hector Roqueta Rivero via Getty Images

Vaccines being given to people at risk of catching monkeypox are expected to run out by the end of next week, according to the UK’s leading health body.

Global supply issues mean the UK won’t have access to another batch of the vaccine until later in September, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

It comes as cases show signs of slowing. The latest data shows there are now roughly 29 cases being confirmed each day on average, compared to 52 daily cases during the last week in June.

Some sexual health clinics are already warning they’ve run out of the vaccine. So where does this leave at-risk groups, who are already experiencing huge levels of “fear and anxiety” over the spread of the disease?

Monkeypox cases are predominantly appearing in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, with studies showing the virus is mostly being passed on through very close skin-to-skin contact, often during sex.

The vaccine – which is actually a smallpox vaccine – has been prioritised for men at higher risk of catching the illness, as well as some contacts of cases and some healthcare professionals.

The UKHSA secured 150,000 doses of the vaccine and has already been given 50,000 of those, which the NHS has been distributing to those in need.

The next batch of 100,000 doses, which are being made to order, will not be received until later in September, although the health body said it is working “to expedite delivery”.

As of August 10, around 27,000 people had been vaccinated by the NHS and in sexual health services in England – of these, just over 25,000 are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

The UKHSA said it will hold back some doses of the vaccine to give to people exposed to the virus in a bid to try and reduce symptom severity, according to a leaked document seen by the BBC.

A public health worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told the BBC they are turning away men in Yorkshire for the vaccine: “It’s unconscionable. More people are going to be getting monkeypox and it will be transmitted in our communities.”

Dr Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), said the organisation is “concerned” about the time it will take to receive more vaccines and “will continue to work hard with national agencies to make sure the next round of delivery is as smooth as possible”.

Men who are at risk of monkeypox are being advised to continue to access local sexual health services, who will keep a record of those eligible for vaccination and invite them forward for the jab when new supplies become available.

Those waiting for the vaccine are encouraged to be vigilant of the symptoms of monkeypox, which include: fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and development of a new rash.

The rash itself could look like: a single blister-like spot (or a small number) on the genitals, anus and surrounding area, or lesions in the mouth. Anal or rectal pain or bleeding is another symptom being experienced.

Symptoms can take up to three weeks to develop, so at-risk groups are being urged to keep checking themselves after intimate contact with others. Anyone feeling unwell should contact their sexual health service, UKHSA has said.

Those who are notified by a health protection team or directly by a previous partner that they’ve been in contact with monkeypox are being urged to take a break from sex and intimate contact.