British health officials will start offering vaccines to some men who are gay or bisexual or who have sex with men, who are most at risk of contractingin an effort to curb the largest outbreak of the disease beyond Africa.
Britain’s Health Security Agency said in a statement Tuesday that doctors might consider vaccinating some gay or bisexual men and men who have sex with men at the highest risk of exposure, whom they defined as people with ” multiple partners” (engaging) in group sex or (attending) ‘sex on the premises’ places.”
“By expanding the supply of vaccines to people most at risk, we hope to break the chains of transmission and help contain the outbreak,” said the Health Security Agency’s director of immunization, Dr. Mary Ramsay.
Last month, a top adviser to the World Health Organization said the monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa was likely spread by sexual activity by men at raves in Spain and Belgium.
Previously, the vaccines were only available to health care workers caring for monkeypox patients or cleaners disinfecting areas contaminated by the virus. The vaccine was originally developed for smallpox, a related disease, but is believed to be 85% effective against monkeypox.
To date, more than 99% of monkeypox cases in Britain are among men, and the majority of them are men who are homosexual, bisexual or who have sex with men. Scientists warn that anyone who is in close physical contact with someone infected with monkeypox or with their clothes or sheets is at risk of contracting the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation.
There are currently 793 cases of monkeypox in the UK, out of more than 2,100 cases in 42 countries globally. No deaths have been reported beyond Africa.
Until last month, monkeypox had only caused sizeable outbreaks in central and western Africa; the mainland has so far reported more than 1,500 cases and 72 suspected deaths in a separate epidemic. Vaccines have never been used in Africa to control monkeypox.
Last week, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the continuing spread of monkeypox in countries that had not previously seen the disease as “unusual and worrying.”
Tedros is calling a meeting of experts on Thursday to decide whether the expansiondeserves to be declared a global emergency. That would give it the same designation as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.