Monkeypox cases in Ireland surpass 100 as vaccine supply remains low

Officials have warned that without more vaccines, cases will continue to rise and the risk of monkeypox becoming endemic increases.

A man being vaccinated against monkeypox.
Image: Pexels

On Wednesday, August 10, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) reported that the number of confirmed monkeypox cases in Ireland has reached 101. The news comes as high-risk groups including gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), continue to wait to be vaccinated, as officials confirm that supplies in Ireland and worldwide remain low and limited.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) previously recommended the use of the smallpox vaccine as protection against monkeypox, and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced on Wednesday, July 26, that it would be offered to those at high risk of contracting the virus in Ireland. However, since then, no clear administration plan has been communicated.

According to reports, the HSE has been offering the two-dose vaccine to close contacts of confirmed cases after carrying out a risk assessment, and it has also been administered to some healthcare workers.

The UK is facing similar issues in terms of supply, with an internal letter from NHS England revealing that there are just 8,300 doses of the Imvanex vaccine left, with 5,000 expected to go to London where demand has been highest. Once these run out, patients will have to wait until the end of September to be vaccinated, when 100,000 doses are expected to arrive into the country.

President of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) Dr Claire Dewsnap said it is “likely that the remaining number of vaccines will run out in approximately 10 to 20 days”.

She continued: “Without urgent action to procure more vaccines and avoid a gap in supply, we risk the disease spreading further throughout the UK and becoming an endemic public health challenge.”

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a new strategy in order to make the most use of its limited supply of the Jynneos vaccine. On Tuesday, August 9, the organisation confirmed it would allow a single dose of the jab to be split into five smaller doses, using a different injection method that ensures the same level of protection against monkeypox is provided. The fractional doses will be administered between layers of the skin as opposed to below the skin, and two doses spread four weeks apart, will still be needed.

“In recent weeks the monkeypox virus has continued to spread at a rate that has made it clear our current vaccine supply will not meet the current demand,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M Califf MD.

“The FDA quickly explored other scientifically appropriate options to facilitate access to the vaccine for all impacted individuals. By increasing the number of available doses, more individuals who want to be vaccinated against monkeypox will now have the opportunity to do so,” he added.

As confirmed monkeypox cases continue to rise in Ireland and globally, still gbMSM are being disproportionately affected. This has led the community to be unfairly targeted, and a gay couple in Washington DC was allegedly verbally and physically assaulted by a group of teenagers on August 7.

According to a police report, 25-year-old Robert and 23-year-old Antonio were walking to a bus stop on Sunday evening when the attack took place. The assailants allegedly called the men “monkeypox f*****s,” as well as other homophobic slurs, before punching them multiple times in the face.

A witness called local authorities when she saw the incident unfold, but the attackers fled the scene once the Police arrived.

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