Health officials are expanding access to the monkeypox vaccine for people at higher risk of contracting it.
Why it matters
Vaccination could be an important step to help limit the spread of monkeypox, which may have gone undetected for some time and is easily misdiagnosed.
What does this mean for you?
Most people do not need the monkeypox vaccine right now. But if you’ve had contact with someone who has it, or you’re in a community with a larger spread, you’re eligible.
Some people are eligible for the monkeypox vaccine as U.S. health officials and local health departments work out the details of a rollout to slow the spread of the disease.
The Biden administration announced last week that it was supplying doses of the monkeypox vaccine, Jynneos, from US stockpiles. Footage will be distributed to communities as needed and people who have been exposed or believe they may have been exposed will be able to get one. Some cities, including New York and Denver, already have clinics set up.
The US and other countries continue, a disease from the same family of viruses that causes smallpox, although monkeypox is usually much less severe. As of Wednesday, there were over 600 confirmed cases in the U.S. (which is likely a large undercount), and the number of reported cases is expected to rise as testing and awareness increases.
Expanding access to the monkeypox vaccine could be an important step in curbing the spread of a disease that may have been spreading undetected for some time, and some experts believe it is coming too late. Testing for monkeypox was relatively rare, and the disease was primarily detected at sexual health clinics. This could be because monkeypox lesions can resemble those of sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes. According to the Regional Director of the World Health Organization for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, most cases involve gay and bisexual people, communities that tend to be proactive about sexual health.
“We’re kind of catching up,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and chief scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“If you’re not getting full case capture through contact tracing and you’re concerned about unrecognized chains of transmission, it may be beneficial to have broader eligibility to just end it,” he said.
Here’s everything we know about monkeypox vaccination in the US. Also read more aboutincluding symptoms, how it spreads and more.
What is the monkeypox vaccine?
The US has two vaccines in its national stockpile that work against monkeypox. Both are expected to act before exposure to monkeypox and after exposure before symptoms develop. (The fact that vaccines work after exposure distinguishes monkeypox from diseases like COVID-19.)
Jyneos (manufactured by Bavarian Nordic) is a new generation vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2019 against monkeypox and smallpox. It is a two-dose vaccine, with each dose given four weeks apart. It uses a weakened virus and is approved for adults age 18 and older who are at high risk of getting monkeypox or chickenpox.
Jynneos is a vaccine that is being shipped and is currently being used in response to monkeypox in the US. Its supply is limited, but the CDC says more may become 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 smallpox vaccine that also works against monkeypox. (The two diseases are closely related, and both are caused by orthopoxviruses, which makes it possible.) If necessary, the US Department of Health and Human Services said it is also ready to ship the ACAM2000 vaccine, which is more abundant than Jynneos but remains the second choice in response to monkeypox because it has a side effect profile that is unsafe for some people.
ACAM2000 is given differently than the typical vaccine we are used to. It is administered by dipping a needle into the vaccine solution, which is then “pricked” several times into the upper arm. It causes a localized infection (“distemper”) that triggers an immune response.
While ACAM2000 does not cause smallpox, it does contain live vaccine virus, which is not suitable for everyone. It could be dangerous for immunocompromised people, pregnant people, and people with certain heart or skin conditions.
Smallpox was declared eradicated from the world in 1980. The US stopped routine vaccination against it in 1972, although some health care workers or people who work 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 need the monkeypox vaccine right now. This is not a widespread rollout like the type that most countries have started for the COVID-19 vaccine. For starters, monkeypox doesn’t spread easily. You usually need to have prolonged, intimate contact with someone – think a household member, a sexual partner or a dance partner at a club.
While anyone can catch or spread monkeypox, gay and bisexual men make up a disproportionate number of cases in the current epidemic. Ahead of the nationwide response, New York began offering the vaccine to people who may be at higher risk of getting it. Colorado also runs pop-up monkeypox clinics.
According to the CDC, you meet the criteria for the monkeypox vaccine if you:
- You are in contact with someone who has monkeypox or have been identified as possibly exposed through contact tracing.
- Within the last two weeks, you have had a sexual partner who has monkeypox.
- During the past two weeks, you have had multiple sexual partners 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.
Availability and eligibility may ultimately depend on where you live and local health department guidelines. 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,” 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 no data yet on exactly how effective the vaccines will be, according to the CDC. Jynneos’ effectiveness against monkeypox is supported by animal studies, the agency says. And while it won’t be used in most cases, ACAM2000 is closely related to Dryvax, the vaccine that helped get rid of smallpox. Efficacy for ACAM2000 is supported by both animal studies and human clinical trials.
While it’s not known how likely you are to get monkeypox after being vaccinated, you should still isolate yourself if you develop monkeypox symptoms, such as a rash, the CDC says. To be most effective, the post-exposure vaccine should be given four days after exposure, according to the CDC. If given between 4 and 14 days after exposure, it may not prevent infection but is expected to reduce disease symptoms, the agency says.
Why does the US stockpile monkeypox vaccines?
The US has stockpiles of Jynneos and ACAM2000 on hand, not because the country fears 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 the 1949s. But smallpox is usually much more serious than monkeypox, and officials fear it could be used as biological warfare.
“The stockpile was created in case of a smallpox biological weapons attack on the United States,” Adalja says. In this case, according to Adalja, health officials would not administer vaccines or use only the newer generation vaccine.
“If there was an attack of smallpox, we would use any vaccines 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 provider with any questions regarding health conditions or health goals.