UK Monkeypox: LGBT+ groups demand government action on virus to stop outbreak ‘becoming endemic’

The NHS announced in July that it was stepping up its vaccination programme against monkeypox in London

LGBT+ groups are calling on the Government to increase efforts to combat monkeypox.

The majority of monkeypox cases seen so far have affected gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM).

The NHS announced in July that it was stepping up its vaccination programme against monkeypox in London (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Although UK health authorities have urged calm, those inside Westminster have called on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to take action due to monkeypox “causing real fear and anxiety” within the queer communities.

A letter to Mr Barclay signed by the LGBT+ groups for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Scottish National Party said: “We are united as LGBT+ groups from across political parties in asking that the Government treat the monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency.

“We cannot afford to allow monkeypox to become endemic in the UK. Luckily, we have the tools required to stop this outbreak and prevent further risk to health now. We ask that you do so urgently.”

This comes after the US declared a public health emergency over the virus on Thursday (4 August).

‘Vaccinating those most at risk of monkeypox must be a priority’

The letter, which was also signed by sexual health charities including the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the Government must prioritise communication and vaccination.

The authors, who included the Tories’ Luke Black and Labour’s Matthew Lloyd, said: “We need clear, non-stigmatising messaging, delivered direct to GBMSM about the symptoms of monkeypox and what to do if you suspect you have the virus to inform and reassure people (rather than the current broadcast-to-all approach that constantly mentions GBMSM).

“Messaging must reach communities at high risk of acquiring monkeypox, through targeted messaging on apps, online and in the queer media.

“Vaccinating those most at risk of monkeypox must be a priority if we are to stand a chance of preventing the virus from becoming endemic in the UK.”

The NHS announced in July that it was stepping up its vaccination programme against monkeypox in London as more supplies of a jab became available, with vaccination experts recommending that gay and bisexual men at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox be offered the smallpox vaccine Imvanex.

But the Terrence Higgins Trust called for improvements to the vaccination effort.

The charity’s head of policy, Ceri Smith, said: “We need urgent political action to get a grip on the UK’s rapidly rising number of monkeypox cases.

“That’s why we’re grateful to the LGBT+ groups from the different political parties uniting to call for a public health response that’s proportionate to the size of the problem while gay and bisexual men continue to make up the vast majority of cases.

“We need to see far better co-ordination, increased vaccine procurement, improved delivery and a cash injection to sexual health services to treat monkeypox that will also reverse the impact the outbreak is already having on STI testing and treatment, PrEP provision and contraception services.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Thousands of monkeypox vaccines have already been administered and the NHS is working to rapidly invite those at greatest risk.

“We have procured over 150,000 vaccines, and we’re working with partners – including the NHS and UK Health Security Agency – to share targeted, non-stigmatising communications with the LGBTQ+ community.

“We are enabling local authorities to invest in essential frontline sexual health services by providing more than £3.4 billion through the Public Health Grant.”