Monkeypox cases could spiral by the end of the year – and reach children, for whom the virus can be deadly – if efforts to vaccinate against it are not improved, experts have warned.
While 50,000 vaccine doses are on order, public health experts say four times this number will be needed to halt the spread.
In the UK, there have already been more than 1,850 cases of the disease, which causes painful blisters across the body, and numbers are believed to be doubling every 15 days. These have predominantly been seen in gay men.
Dr Deborah Birx, the former head of the US Covid task force, told The Mail on Sunday that all gay men in London under the age of 50 should be vaccinated as well as women who visit gay bars. ‘If you’re at a gay bar and you’re dancing, then there is a risk of infection,’ she said.
Monkeypox cases could spiral by the end of the year – and reach children, for whom the virus can be deadly – if efforts to vaccinate against it are not improved, experts have warned
The virus is passed on through close physical contact, such as sex, but also kissing and hugging.
Vaccines can provide effective protection, but doctors have criticised the slow rollout of the jabs to Britons most at risk and claim the UK does not have not enough doses to stop the virus from spreading into the wider population.
There are particular worries that monkeypox could reach children, who are more likely to suffer severe illness as a result.
On Thursday, the UK Health Security Agency confirmed that a London school sent reception classes home until the end of term after a child came into contact with a monkeypox case.
According to a letter sent to parents, officials advised parents to avoid hugging their children, or any other very close contact, for two weeks. The children will now be offered the vaccine.
Dr Deborah Birx (pictured), the former head of the US Covid task force, told The Mail on Sunday that all gay men in London under the age of 50 should be vaccinated as well as women who visit gay bars. ‘If you’re at a gay bar and you’re dancing, then there is a risk of infection,’ she said
There are two vaccines that can protect against the virus. One, created by a small Danish company, specifically protects against monkeypox. But the decades-old smallpox vaccine also works, because the two viruses are so similar.
The majority of over-50s are thought already to have good immunity to monkeypox because they would have received a compulsory smallpox jab in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Mail on Sunday understands the UK has 30,000 vaccines – a combination of the two types – and sexual health clinics last week began inviting some gay men to receive the jab.
However, experts say at least 200,000 doses of the jab are needed to prevent monkeypox spreading and reaching children, and spreading among them and other vulnerable groups such as pregnant women.
This figure is based on the number of men eligible for HIV-preventative drugs – those who have on average two or more male partners every six months, and as such are at most risk of catching monkeypox.
If health officials are able to vaccinate this group, experts believe the disease could be effectively controlled.
Examples of the monkeypox rash, which can appear anywhere on the body. In the UK, there have already been more than 1,850 cases of the disease, which causes painful blisters, and numbers are believed to be doubling every 15 days. These have predominantly been seen in gay men
Official estimates suggest there are 100,000 men eligible for these drugs in the UK, 70,000 of whom are in London, where the majority of monkeypox cases have already been seen.
As with Covid, two jabs are required for the vaccine to have full effect, meaning that, at present, the UK cannot vaccinate all eligible Britons.
‘Health officials have told us the current strategy is to get hold of 50,000 doses of the vaccine, but since we need to give out two doses, that means only 25,000 people will get them and that’s not nearly enough,’ says Dr Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV.
‘Currently monkeypox is just affecting this sub-group of Britons, but if cases keep rising it won’t stay that way. When it eventually breaks out into the wider population, we’ll need a lot more vaccines than we can feasibly get our hands on.’
Experts also believe there are many cases going undiagnosed, following a study last week from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium, which showed transmission of the virus may occur without symptoms.
More than ten per cent of Britons infected have been hospitalised, though this has predominantly been for pain management, as the blisters can be debilitating, making activities such as eating and going to the toilet excruciating. In people with weaker immune systems, like children, the disease can be deadly.
In June, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was concerned that sustained transmission of monkeypox would lead to the virus establishing itself in the community and could infect ‘high-risk groups including children, the immunocompromised and pregnant women’.