Federal health officials announced Tuesday that clinics across the country will begin offering monkeypox vaccinations to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.
Until now, immunization has only been offered to people with known exposure.
States will receive doses of a safer and newer monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos from the federal stockpile based on the number of cases and the percentage of the state’s population at risk of severe illness, officials said at a news briefing.
Public health authorities may also request an older smallpox vaccine that is also believed to protect against monkeypox.
The Department of Health and Human Services will provide 56,000 doses of Jynneos immediately and another 240,000 doses in the coming weeks. An additional 750,000 doses are expected to become available in the summer, for a total of 1.6 million doses by the end of this year.
“This vaccine currently has some supply restrictions, and for this reason, the administration’s current vaccine strategy is prioritizing its availability to those who need it most,” the doctor said. This was stated by director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky.
An older smallpox vaccine called ACAM2000 has been associated with severe side effects, including death, in immunocompromised people, pregnant women and the elderly.
The new vaccination plan drew sharp criticism from experts who said the campaign was too small and slow to make an impact. The longer it takes to contain the monkeypox outbreak, the more likely the virus is to take hold in the United States, especially among men who have sex with men, the researchers warn.
“Many of us are concerned that the window for us to eliminate monkeypox is closing,” the doctor said. Celine Gunder is an infectious disease expert and editor-in-chief of the public health division at Kaiser Health News.
“If we don’t start vaccination more quickly and widely, it will be very difficult for us to contain it,” she said. Ideally, monkeypox tests and vaccines could be offered at LGBTQ Pride events around the country to reach men at high risk of contracting the virus. Gonder added.
Some experts said the plan is also unfair to at-risk men who would not have access to the Jynneos vaccine, especially those who have HIV and cannot safely take the old smallpox vaccine.
“It won’t be enough to meet the need,” said Elizabeth Finley, public relations director for the National Coalition of STD Directors. “Furthermore, without improved testing capabilities, a strategy based on contacts with a positive case does not work.”
It’s also unclear what qualifies as a likely impact, she added: “Do you need to know that someone at the event tested positive, or are you just going, ‘Oh, I went to a rave and I want to be safe’?”
Many clinicians are concerned about the side effects and scarring of the old smallpox vaccine, and the misinformation and distrust of the vaccine that they may be fueling, Ms Wilson said. Finley said. “We had clinicians who said there was no way they would give someone ACAM2000,” she said.
On the other hand, the Jynneos vaccine has never been used on such a scale, and federal health officials have said they will be watching for unexpected side effects.
To date, the administration has provided more than 9,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine and 300 courses of antiviral treatment in 32 jurisdictions in the country, officials said on Tuesday.
European Union accepts similar plan, sending 5,300 of Jynneos’ 100,000 doses to Spain, which has the most cases, followed by Portugal, Germany and Belgium. Other Member States will receive doses in July and August.
Monkeypox cases have risen sharply in many European countries and in the United States.
There were 306 cases in 27 states and the District of Columbia as of June 28, up from 156 cases a week earlier. The CDC has activated its emergency operations center to better track and respond to the outbreak. Valensky said.
The reported figures are likely underestimates, the doctor said. Jay Varma, director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response. “To me and I think it is very clear to many others that the scale of the epidemic is much larger than our official case counts suggest,” he said.
Given the rising numbers, the available doses are unlikely to be sufficient to meet demand. On Monday, the Washington Department of Health invited 300 doctors to be vaccinated against monkeypox; slots filled up in less than 15 minutes.
In New York, where 55 cases of monkeypox had been identified as of Tuesday, 1,000 doses of Jynneos vaccine were available. The city’s health department has begun administering vaccines at a single clinic in Chelsea, whose clientele is predominantly wealthy white men who have sex with men.
The city offered the first doses in noon June 23. Less than two hours later, officials announced that the clinic can no longer receive visitors and made an appointment until June 27. As of Tuesday, the city was I’m still waiting to get more doses of the vaccine.
“It started and then it stopped and it started without anyone’s preparation and I’m not sure when it will return,” said Kelecso Makofane, a social media epidemiologist at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.
“All this uncertainty is not helping us cultivate the trust we need,” says the doctor. Makofane said.
Several experts also disagreed with the location and said it would be fairer to offer vaccines at clinics frequented by black men with untreated HIV and limited access to care.