The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that they are recommending new populations get vaccinated against monkeypox in order to stop the spread of the virus in the U.S. The plan also includes the distribution of monkeypox vaccines.
The CDC now recommends that men who have had sex with multiple men in the last fourteen days in cities where cases of monkeypox have been confirmed get vaccinated against the virus, as well as people who have had sexual contact with someone with a confirmed case of the disease.
Related: Afghan authorities are using monkeypox to harass & detain gay men
The disease was first identified in 1970 and is usually spread to humans by rodents and other animals. It is endemic in the Congo Basin and West Africa but the most recent outbreak has seen over 5000 cases of the disease worldwide, with 306 reported in the U.S. so far since May.
Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and a rash with blisters that usually clear up in several weeks. In one to five percent of cases, the virus results in death, and immunocompromised people, pregnant people, and children are at the highest risk of death.
No deaths from the disease have been reported in the U.S. so far.
The disease is spread through close contact with a symptomatic person and many of the known cases have been identified among men who have sex with men.
In a press call earlier today, Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed that gay and bi men are not the only people at risk for monkeypox.
“In a strict sense of the word, it is not a sexually transmitted disease,” he said, saying that it is spread by skin-to-skin contact. “However, that appears to be the modality of spread” right now.
But he stressed that, like HIV, while it may be spread among gay and bi men at first, it could be spread through other means in the future.
“It’s not a disease that will be essentially restricted to men who have sex with men,” he said. “The numbers may increase, which means we have to be careful and pay attention”
The vaccine Jynneos, part of the national strategic stockpile because of its effectiveness against smallpox, is approved in the U.S. to fight against the spread of monkeypox. Two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart are recommended.
“It’s really quite safe, with relatively few adverse effects,” Fauci said.
“The goal of the strategy is to ramp up our efforts to contain the virus,” said Dr. Raj Panjabi, White House National Security Council Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense, on the call. “The goal of this initial phase of the strategy is to slow the spread the disease.”
HHS officials said that they plan to distribute about a quarter of a million doses over the next several weeks and 1.6 million by the end of the year to help supply the increasing number of people recommended to get the vaccine. Until this week, HHS only recommended that only people who had sexual contact with someone who had a confirmed case of monkeypox get vaccinated.
While he wasn’t willing to quantify the risk gay and bi men are at when it comes to monkeypox, Dr. Fauci stressed taking care to look for monkeypox blisters to help stop the spread of the disease.
“You don’t want to be paralyzed by this, you just want to exercise some care in the people you have close skin-to-skin contact with,” he said. “Just have an exertion of a little bit more care.”
LGBTQ community advocates hailed the plan.
“HHS’ vaccination strategy is critically necessary to protect vulnerable people and the public at large,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of GLAAD.
HRC has created a resource page with more information about the virus.