The UK is waiting to receive around 100,000 doses of smallpox vaccine used to treat monkeypox amid concerns the country is set to run out.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said 150,000 doses have been procured, but only 50,000 have been received so far due to supply issues.
Sky News recently reported that there are only around 5,000 doses of the jab left, with Dr Mary Ramsay from the UKHSA saying the remaining 100,000 doses were expected to arrive in the UK in September.
However, Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, said vaccines to tackle monkeypox “may run out” in some areas before more doses arrive in a few weeks’ time.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There may be a short period, probably of three or four weeks, where vaccines may run out in some areas.
“And in those cases we are ensuring that the individuals who have come forward are checked and will be invited again, so they just need to ensure that their names are available. And as soon as the vaccine’s in we will get it into people’s arms.”
The UK initially had a consignment of 50,000 vaccines – enough to vaccinate 25,000 people – and 150,000 doses have been ordered in total, which is “the maximum available”, Dame Jenny added.
Officials previously estimated that some 40,000 people in at-risk groups would require the jab, but this may have been an “under-estimate”, she said.
Who is eligible for a monkeypox vaccine?
Thousands of cases of the illness have been recorded in the UK, with the majority transmitted between gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with other men.
The NHS is offering smallpox (MVA) vaccination to people who are most likely to be exposed to monkeypox.
Monkeypox is caused by a similar virus to smallpox and the MVA vaccine should give a good level of protection against monkeypox.
Your local NHS services will contact you and offer you a vaccine if you are at risk of exposure and you may also be offered the vaccine alongside other appointments, for example for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
According to the NHS, people who are most likely to be exposed include:
- healthcare workers caring for patients with confirmed or suspected monkeypox
- men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men, and who have multiple partners, participate in group sex or attend sex on premises venues (staff who work in these premises may also be eligible)
- people who’ve been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox – ideally they should have the vaccine within four days of contact, but it can be given up to 14 days after
Health care workers will usually be offered two doses of the vaccine.
Men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men, and close contacts of people with monkeypox will usually be offered one dose of the vaccine.
Ian Green, chief executive of sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said of the reported vaccine shortage: “There needs to be urgent action to salvage this situation. We know many gay and bisexual men will be worried by news of vaccine supplies running low and our advice to them is please do not panic.
“It’s crucial we have transparency from the UKHSA about what’s happened and when we can expect more doses to reach the country, as the vaccine programme is absolutely crucial to getting on top of the monekypox outbreak.
“The very limited doses of vaccine we have left in the country must now be prioritised for those most at risk in the places with the highest reported cases.
“That means ensuring sexual health services in places like Brighton, Manchester and Essex are given provision alongside London.
“It’s high time we got a proper grip on the monkeypox response and for that we need to see this taken seriously at the highest level of Government.”