The UK could be left without monkeypox vaccines in the coming weeks as the UK awaits a bumper shipment of 100,000 doses next month.
Health authorities have already received more than 50,000 doses, but demand for the vaccine has exceeded supply. Reports claim that the remaining number of doses may be as few as 8,000.
The monkeypox vaccine, called Imvanex, is given as an injection and a person needs two doses, normally four weeks apart, for full protection.
Britain ordered 100,000 more doses of Imvanex in July to be delivered in September by Bavarian Nordic, the Danish drug company that is the only place in the world that makes monkeypox.
The vaccine also protects against smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, so before the current outbreak countries only had small stocks in case of a bioterror attack or a rare, localized case of monkeypox brought from abroad where the virus is endemic, such as in West Africa.
But with around 3,000 cases of the virus now in the UK alone – with the overwhelming majority being gay men, as it is mainly spread via sexual networks – there has been a huge increase in demand in the UK.
This has also been mirrored globally, with one company quickly trying to scale up production to meet the demands of the outbreak, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Now, all gay men who are promiscuous, have recently had an STI or participate in group sex are eligible to receive the vaccine as a preventative measure, and are encouraged to contact their local sexual health clinic to be inoculated.
The UKHSA said last week that the outbreak in the UK appears to be slowing, mainly as a result of getting as many susceptible men vaccinated as possible.
Protection from the vaccine is long-lasting, with people who received a smallpox jab in the UK before it was stopped in 1971 still protected against monkeypox.
As a result of the robust and lasting protection, public health managers prioritized initial doses to maximize how many people have some protection. The UKHSA approach means they are content to deplete their vaccine stocks as quickly as possible to build up maximum protection in the vulnerable community.
This rapid deployment approach will build protection quickly, but means there may be a period where the nation has no more available doses before the resupply shipment arrives.
The delivery schedule is dictated by Bavarian Nordic, not UKHSA, and experts believe that the doses already given have been effective in preventing the outbreak.
Vaccine “can be up to 99 percent effective”
Dr Mary Ramsay, director of clinical programs at UKHSA, said: “The rollout continues apace, with the vaccine being offered to people at higher risk of coming into contact with monkeypox to offer them protection and to help contain ongoing outbreaks.
“The remaining approximately 100,000 doses are expected to arrive in the UK in September. The thousands of vaccines administered by the NHS to date among those most at risk of exposure should have a significant impact on the transmission of the virus.”
Dr Nick Phin, director of public health science and medical director at Public Health Scotland, said the country wants to vaccinate around 6,000 people, and has so far only received 3,000 doses.
He added that he believes the vaccine could be up to 99 percent effective.
“[People] mention 85 per cent, but I actually put it much higher, it is closer to 98-99 per cent, he said.
“We know it’s effective, it’s very effective. I have no concerns about the effectiveness of this vaccine, it has a good track record and the trials have consistently shown a high level of protection.”