Gay and bisexual men at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox should be offered vaccination, the UK’s health body has announced.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) made the recommendation on Tuesday.
It comes after the number of cases of monkeypox in the UK reached more than 500.
Health officials in Scotland said that the number of cases in the country had risen to 18, as of noon on Sunday.
Public Health Scotland also indicated that so far, the majority of cases in the UK have been men aged between 20 and 50-years-old.
The UKHSA has said that the virus is not currently defined as a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be passed on by close and intimate contact that occurs during sex.
It has now recommended that the smallpox vaccine Imvanex – shown to be effective against monkeypox – is offered to men that are considered to be at higher risk of exposure.
The strategy has been endorsed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), having been consulted on the eligibility criteria for the vaccine.
According to the UKHSA, an individual’s eligibility would depend on a number of factors, but would be similar to the criteria used to assess those eligible for HIB pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), but applied regardless of HIV status.
The strategy states that a clinician may advise vaccination for someone who, for example, has multiple partners, participates in group sex or attends ‘sex on premises’ venues, the UKHSA said.
People have been advised not to come forward for the vaccine until they are contacted.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA, explained it is importance to use the available vaccine to target groups where spread is ongoing.
“Our extensive contact tracing work has helped to limit the spread of the monkeypox virus, but we are continuing to see a notable proportion of cases in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
“By expanding the vaccine offer to those at higher risk, we hope to break chains of transmission and help contain the outbreak.
“Although most cases are mild, severe illness can occur in some people, so it is important we use the available vaccine to target groups where spread is ongoing.
“The NHS will soon set out details on how this will be delivered – so do not come forward for the vaccine yet.”
Dr Ramsay added: “In the meantime, everyone should continue to be alert to any new spots, ulcers or blisters on any part of their body, particularly if they’ve had close contact with a new partner.
“If you think you have these symptoms, avoid close contact with others and call NHS 111 or your local sexual health centre, though please phone ahead before attending.”
Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall, welcomed the vaccine being offered.
“While we know anyone can catch monkeypox, we welcome the vaccine being offered to those gay and bi men who are eligible and currently at a higher risk of getting the virus,” he said.
“It is important that gay and bi men get the vaccine when offered to protect themselves and others.
“Let’s help get the outbreak under control so we can all have a safe and happy pride season.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed that full details on how eligible people can get vaccinated will be set out shortly.
“Following the advice published today by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to help control the outbreak of monkeypox, Scotland will move to a pre-exposure vaccination programme for priority risk groups,” they said.
“We are working with our partners at Public Health Scotland (PHS) and in line with the published advice, endorsed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), to determine the delivery of a vaccine programme.
“Full details on how eligible people can get vaccinated will be set out shortly, but we can confirm we are planning to offer the vaccine to certain healthcare workers and some gay and bisexual men considered to be at higher risk of contracting the disease.
“People are advised not to come forward for the vaccine until contacted.”