Health officials are expanding access to the monkeypox vaccine to people at higher risk of becoming infected.
Why it matters
Vaccination could be an important step in curbing the spread of monkeypox, which has been able to spread undetected for some time and can easily be misdiagnosed.
What does that mean for you?
Most people do not currently need the monkeypox vaccine. But if you’ve had contact with someone who has monkeypox, or you’re in a community with a higher prevalence, you may be eligible.
The Biden administration announced last week that it was shipping doses of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine from the U.S. stockpile of smallpox and monkeypox vaccines. The vaccine will be distributed to communities based on need, and people who have been exposed, or believe they may have been exposed, will be able to receive it. Some cities, including New York and Denver, already have established clinics.
USA and other countries are in progress, a disease from the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, although monkeypox is usually much less severe. As of Friday, there were over 760 confirmed cases in the US (which is probably a huge undercount).
Expanding access to the monkeypox vaccine could be an important step in curbing the spread of a disease that has been spreading undetected for some time, and some experts think it is overdue. Testing for monkeypox was relatively rare, and the disease was primarily discovered at sexual health clinics. This could be due to the fact that the lesions from monkeypox can resemble those from sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes. Most cases are in gay and bisexual men, communities that tend to be proactive about sexual health, according to the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Dr. To Hans Henry P. Kluge.
“We’re kind of playing catch-up,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“If you can’t fully catch cases through contact tracing and you’re concerned about unrecognized chains of transmission, it might be useful to have broader eligibility to put an end to that,” he said.
Here’s everything we know about monkeypox vaccination in the US. Also, read more aboutincluding symptoms and how it spreads.
What is the monkeypox vaccine?
The US has two vaccines that work against monkeypox in its national stockpile. Both are expected to work before exposure to monkeypox, as well as after exposure before symptoms begin. (The fact that vaccines work after exposure sets monkeypox apart from diseases like COVID-19.)
Jynneos (manufactured by Bavarian Nordic) is a new generation vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2019 for monkeypox and smallpox. It is a two-dose vaccine, and each injection is given four weeks apart. It uses a weakened virus and is approved for adults 18 and older who are at high risk of contracting monkeypox or measles.
Jynneos is a vaccine that is supplied and is currently being used to combat monkeypox in the US. Supply is limited, but the CDC says more may be available in the coming weeks and months.
Jynneos is the newest monkeypox vaccine, but it’s not the only one in the US stockpile.
ACAM2000 is a second-generation measles vaccine that also works against monkeypox. (The two diseases are closely related and both caused by orthopoxviruses, which makes this possible.) If needed, the US Department of Health and Human Services has said it is also ready to supply the ACAM2000 vaccine, which is in greater stock than Jynneos, but remains the second choice in response to monkeypox because it has a side effect profile that is not safe for certain people.
ACAM2000 is administered differently than the typical vaccine we are used to. It is administered by dipping a needle into the vaccine solution, which will then be “stabbed” several times in the upper arm. This will cause a localized infection (“pox”), which will trigger an immune response.
Although ACAM2000 does not cause smallpox, it does contain live vaccine virus, which is not suitable for everyone. May be unsafe for immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women, and those with certain heart or skin conditions.
Smallpox was declared eliminated from the world in 1980. The US stopped routine vaccination against it in 1972, although some health care workers or people working in laboratories may have had the vaccine. According to the CDC, ACAM2000 is a derivative of Dryvax, which helped eradicate smallpox.
Who needs the monkeypox vaccine?
Most people do not currently need the monkeypox vaccine. This is not a widespread rollout like most countries have started for the COVID-19 vaccine. For starters, monkeypox doesn’t spread easily. You usually have to have prolonged, intimate contact with someone – say a household member, a sexual partner or a dance partner at a club.
Although anyone can get or transmit monkeypox, homosexuals and bisexuals account for a disproportionate number of cases in the current epidemic. Ahead of a national response, New York has begun offering the vaccine to people who may be at higher risk of getting it. Colorado also runs monkeypox vaccine clinics.
According to the CDC, you meet the criteria for the monkeypox vaccine if you:
- You are a contact of someone with monkeypox or have been identified as possibly exposed through contact tracing.
- You have had a sexual partner in the last two weeks who has monkeypox.
- You have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with a high incidence of monkeypox.
If you are concerned about monkeypox or the risk of exposure, contact your doctor or local health clinic. Jynneos should also be a priority for people who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, the CDC says, including people who are immunocompromised.
Availability and eligibility may ultimately depend on where you live and the guidelines of your local health department. Adalja says the response to the current monkeypox outbreak is not meant to be “one size fits all,” but a vaccine “should be on the table if we have contact tracing difficulties,” which some experts say is already a reality.
How effective are vaccines?
Because the monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. is so new, there is still no data on how effective vaccines will be, according to the CDC. The effectiveness of Jynneos against monkeypox is confirmed by animal studies, according to the agency. And while it won’t be used in most cases, ACAM2000 is closely related to Dryvax, the vaccine that helped get rid of measles. The effectiveness of ACAM2000 is supported by animal studies as well as human clinical trials.
Although it’s not known how likely you are to get monkeypox after being vaccinated, you should still self-isolate if you develop monkeypox symptoms, such as a rash, the CDC says. For the vaccine to be most effective after exposure, the vaccine should be given four days after exposure, according to the CDC. If given between four and 14 days after exposure, it may not prevent infection but is expected to reduce symptoms of the disease, the agency said.
Why does the US stockpile monkeypox vaccines?
The US has stockpiles of Jynneos and ACAM2000 on hand not because the country was worried about an outbreak of monkeypox (which has been endemic in some African countries for years), but in case smallpox becomes a public threat again. Smallpox was declared eliminated in the 1980s, and the last natural outbreak in the US occurred in 1949. But smallpox is usually much more severe than monkeypox, and officials worry it could be used as biological warfare.
“The stockpile was created in case of a biological weapons attack on the United States with smallpox,” Adalja says. In that case, health officials would not ration vaccines or use only a newer generation vaccine, says Adalja.
“If there was an attack of smallpox, we would use all the vaccines we have to deal with it,” he added.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care professional with any questions you may have about your health condition or health goals.