The NHS in London, along with local public health teams, will be accelerating the rollout of the monkeypox vaccine from this week, prioritising individuals who are most likely to get the virus.
NHS staff across the country have already started vaccinating eligible gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men (GBMSM), along with the frontline staff at greatest risk of exposure and those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case, in line with the UK Health Security Agency advice.
While the vaccine is available across the country and being rolled out in clinics, the expansion in London comes as NHS and UKHSA confirm that London will receive additional doses of the existing supply in an effort to break the chains of transmission as quickly as possible.
Thousands more people who are eligible in the capital will now be contacted over the next few days and weeks about getting their jab, as plans are scaled up and more supply becomes available.
The public is being asked to wait to be contacted with the head of the NHS vaccination programme urging those who are invited to come forward at the earliest possible opportunity.
On Tuesday, UKHSA announced that they had procured more than 100,000 additional vaccine doses with the first 20,000 set to be delivered for use by the NHS in August.
There has been a total of 2,050 confirmed monkeypox cases across England so far with the majority based in London.
In London, there are more than 18 clinics offering vaccinations including Dean Street sexual health clinic in Soho, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, Mortimer Market Centre in Camden and Barking Hospital Outpatient Centre East. Work to identify, book in and vaccinate patients is underway at every clinic.
Last weekend, clinics in London delivered over 1,000 vaccinations. NHS staff are working hard to offer weekend appointments with as many as 2,000 being offered over Saturdays and Sundays throughout July to maximise convenience.
Steve Russell, NHS Director of Vaccinations, said: “While the risk of monkeypox remains very low and nearly every case we have seen so far has recovered quickly, over 2,000 people have been affected by the virus.
“On the whole, the cases we are seeing are among gay and bisexual men or men who have sex with men, with a significant number coming from London and so it is vital that those who are most likely to get the virus get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“The NHS is now scaling up its plans to get people vaccinated, particularly in London, thanks to the efforts of staff who are working hard to help stop onward spread, in line with UKHSA advice.
“Thousands more people will be invited very shortly with the number of clinics expanded too, and as we have done with the most successful COVID vaccination programme in history, the NHS will leave no stone unturned in ensuring everyone who is eligible can get protected.
“We will be inviting anyone who we believe is a priority for vaccination and local teams will be working to make sure that anyone who meets the criteria set by UKHSA knows how they can get their jab.
“We are asking people to wait to be contacted and to come forward at the earliest opportunity possible when invited to get vaccinated.”
Over the coming weeks, the number of clinics across the country offering a pre-exposure vaccination will grow rapidly, making it as quick and convenient as possible for people to get a vaccine.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA, said: “Our surveillance systems were the first in the world to detect the current monkeypox outbreak and specialist public health teams are rapidly following up on all cases to limit transmission.
“Vaccination will further strengthen our response and so we urge all those who are eligible for the vaccine to take it up when offered. It will help protect yourself and others you have had close contact with. While the infection is mild for many, it can cause severe symptoms and hospitalisation in some. Please remember that the vaccine may not provide complete protection against monkeypox, so it is still important to be alert for the symptoms of monkeypox and call 111 or a sexual health clinic if you develop any.
“The NHS will provide the vaccine to those eligible, so please wait until you are offered. Thank you to all our colleagues in sexual health services who are rolling out this important programme”.
Vaccines Minister, Maggie Throup, said: “While we know that monkeypox is usually mild and does not spread easily between people, we have procured more vaccines to further help control the outbreak.
“It is vital people continue to stay alert and contact a sexual health clinic if they notice any unusual rashes or lesions.
“The NHS is already contacting those eligible for the vaccine, and I would urge people to take up the offer as soon as they are contacted. I’m extremely grateful to the fantastic teams working across the capital to keep everyone safe”.
Some sexual health services will contact men who are likely to be at higher risk, for example, those who have had a recent sexually transmitted infection, to come in first. Other services will offer vaccines alongside other appointments, such as HIV PrEP.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “It’s encouraging that the monkeypox vaccine is being rapidly expanded across our capital.
“With London seeing the highest rate of infection in the country, it is important that NHS London is able to prioritise the vaccination of those most at risk.
“I urge everyone who is offered the vaccine to book their appointment as soon as they are contacted”.
Alex Sparrowhawk, Health Promotion Specialist at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “The targeted monkeypox vaccination programme is a crucial step forward while the data still shows the virus is disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men in the UK. As more doses become available, we recommend those offered the vaccine accept it to protect their health and help bring the outbreak under control. We then encourage everyone, regardless of their sexuality, to be vigilant of the symptoms, which can include a rash with new spots, ulcers and blisters”.
Anyone who has symptoms consistent with monkeypox infection should limit interactions with others and contact their local sexual health clinic or phone 111. You should not visit A&E or your GP.
Anyone can get monkeypox and although more people have been diagnosed with it recently, the risk remains low.
Monkeypox can spread from person to person through touching clothing, bedding or towels used by someone with the monkeypox rash, touching monkeypox skin blisters or scabs, or through the coughs or sneezes of a person with the monkeypox rash, including during sex.
Common signs of monkeypox infection include fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes, and the development of a new rash.
Prof Chloe Orkin, Director of the SHARE collaborative for health equity at Queen Mary University of London said: “Globally the picture is highly inequitable and most doctors caring for people with monkeypox infection in the 70 countries affected don’t have access to either vaccines or anti-viral treatments. We are so fortunate that UKHSA has managed to procure 100,000 vaccines to enable NHS England to rapidly expand the vaccination roll-out in London where the highest number of infections are concentrated. This is only possible because of the total commitment of NHS staff at sexual health clinics who have once again risen to the challenge of an escalating global pandemic by working throughout the weekend and offering appointments to people most at risk at the most convenient times.”
Dr John McSorley, Consultant Physician, Sexual Health & HIV Services and BASHH spokesperson “Managing monkeypox is putting a significant burden on services – already facing high demand – given the additional time needed for assessing patients and applying infection control, which in turn is impacting other areas of sexual health care delivery. We welcome the NHS England’s announcement of the accelerated vaccine roll-out and encourage those who are eligible to come forward for vaccination when contacted”.