TENS of thousands of men are to be offered a vaccine in a bid to stem the monkeypox outbreak in the UK, health officials have said.
793 cases have been confirmed in the UK, with two reportedly in Essex.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that in a bid to control the outbreak, some gay and bisexual men at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox should be offered the smallpox vaccine Imvanex.
The UKHSA said that the jab had been shown to be effective against monkeypox.
Its new strategy, endorsed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), suggests that eligibility would depend on a number of factors but a clinician may advise vaccination for someone who has a “recent history of multiple partners, participating in group sex, attending sex on premises venues or a proxy marker such as recent bacterial STI in the past year”.
The guidance does not recommend vaccination to the general population.
The NHS in England is to set out details on how eligible people can get vaccinated “shortly”.
A number of health workers are already offered the jab, including those who care for people with the virus and lab workers where pox viruses are handled.
The vaccine has also been offered to close contacts of those who have a confirmed case of monkeypox to reduce their risk of symptoms and severe illness.
The current outbreak has largely occurred among gay and bisexual men, according to the UKHSA.
Just five cases have been confirmed in women.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: “Our extensive contact tracing work has helped to limit the spread of the monkeypox virus, but we are continuing to see a notable proportion of cases in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
“By expanding the vaccine offer to those at higher risk, we hope to break chains of transmission and help contain the outbreak.
“Although most cases are mild, severe illness can occur in some people, so it is important we use the available vaccine to target groups where spread is ongoing.
“The NHS will soon set out details on how this will be delivered, so do not come forward for the vaccine yet.
“In the meantime, everyone should continue to be alert to any new spots, ulcers or blisters on any part of their body, particularly if they’ve had close contact with a new partner.
“If you think you have these symptoms, avoid close contact with others and call NHS 111 or your local sexual health centre, though please phone ahead before attending.”