UK urgently needs vaccination campaign to tackle monkeypox, campaigners say

Health authorities are underestimating the scale of the response needed to prevent monkeypox from becoming endemic in the UK, sexual health campaigners have warned, as a new vaccination campaign is launched.

The Terrence Higgins Trust has urged the NHS and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to urgently pump money into the system to pay more healthcare workers to administer the vaccines. He also wants the number of doses ordered doubled to protect against a virus that has infected at least 2,208 people in the UK, according to the latest official figures.

Monkeypox is usually mild and spread through close contact with an infected person or animal, but the risk of serious illness is higher in children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people.

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV has estimated that at least 125,000 people will need vaccines, including gay men living with HIV, sex workers and health clinic staff sex and saunas. A double dose of smallpox vaccine is required. Last week the NHS announced it had purchased at least 100,000 more doses. It asks people to wait until they are asked to get vaccinated and prioritizes gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with men who have exhibited high-risk behavior . Campaigners want more walk-in clinics amid ‘impatience’ from those at risk.

“There has to be a [monkeypox] tsar tasked with preventing this from becoming rampant,” said Richard Angell, director of campaigns at the Terrence Higgins Trust. “We cannot allow it to enter the system like chlamydia.”

In a letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Saturday, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘I fear you are not faced with the urgency to act and the response has so far lacked coordination from DHSC and NHS. England,” he said.

Labor said the vaccination program was already diverting resources from basic service delivery through sexual health services, including HIV therapies and long-term contraception.

“Your department is committed to achieving an 80% reduction in new HIV infections in England by 2025,” Streeting said. “It would be a scandal if progress towards this goal were to be jeopardized.”

A government spokesman said the UKHSA was monitoring demand for vaccines and would be able to source more doses quickly if needed.

“The NHS is already contacting those eligible for the vaccine and urging people to take up the offer as soon as they are contacted,” they said. “We have provided over £3.4 billion to local authorities through the Public Health Grant, enabling them to invest in essential frontline services, including sexual health services.”

On Saturday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the outbreak of monkeypox in several countries was a public health emergency of international concern.

The body’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee could not reach consensus on whether the outbreak warranted the declaration, but Ghebreyesus said it was warranted because the virus had spread. “spread rapidly around the world through new modes of transmission of which we understand too little”.

He said the risk of monkeypox was “moderate” globally and “high” in Europe and there was “a clear risk of international spread”.

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The UKHSA said last week that transmission continues to occur primarily within interconnected sexual networks. “The most recent data suggests that the growth of the epidemic may have slowed,” he said. “This means that we continue to identify new infections, but at a more stable rate.”

In a statement on Friday, Steve Russell, the NHS director of vaccinations, said: “The NHS is now stepping up its plans to get people vaccinated, especially in London…thousands more people will be invited very soon, with the number of expanded clinics too… We are asking people to wait to be contacted and to come forward as soon as possible when asked to be vaccinated.

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