The NHS is accelerating and expanding its monkeypox vaccine rollout in London, as the infectious disease continues to spread throughout the capital.
A further 100,000 vaccine doses have been ordered by the government, with the first 20,000 set to be delivered for use by the NHS in August.
Existing supplies of the vaccine are to be diverted to London, where the vast majority of the UK’s cases — 2,137 in total — have been reported.
Thousands of eligible people will be contacted in the coming days and weeks with information about receiving the vaccine, the NHS said.
While anyone can contract monkeypox, the virus is largely spreading among gay or bisexual men or men who have sex with men, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
At-risk individuals from this group who are eligible for vaccination include individuals with a recent history of multiple partners and those who participate in group sex. This criteria has been set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Thousands have already received the Imvanex vaccine, which is typically used against smallpox, a viral relative of monkeypox.
However, there is no indication yet that the UK’s monkeypox outbreak is fading. Sexual health charities last warned that the infection could become “endemic if urgent action is not taken”.
There have been no deaths from monkeypox so far. The NHS said “nearly every case we have seen so far” has recovered quickly. The general risk posed by the infection to the population remains low, UKHSA has said.
Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations, said officials “will leave no stone unturned in ensuring everyone who is eligible can get protected.”
He added: “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.”
The NHS said the number of clinics in England offering a pre-exposure vaccination would increase rapidly in the next few weeks.
In London, more than 18 clinics are 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.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: “Vaccination will further strengthen our response, so we urge all those who are eligible for the vaccine to take it up when offered.”
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.”
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.