Sexual health services will lead the rollout of the smallpox vaccine to those at risk of monkeypox, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.
Last month, health officials recommended that some gay and bisexual men at higher risk of exposure to monkeypox should be offered vaccines to help control the recent outbreak of the virus.
However, it remained unclear what involvement GPs would have in the rollout.
Now UKHSA has announced that the vaccination programme ‘is beginning’ and that sexual health services will be responsible for its delivery.
UKHSA said on Friday: ‘A vaccination programme is beginning, and sexual health services will offer the vaccine to anyone considered to be at higher risk of exposure.
‘This includes people with a recent history of multiple partners, participating in group sex, attending sex on premises venues, or have recently had a bacterial sexually transmitted infection.’
It added that its latest data ‘shows no signs of a decline in the outbreak’ but that there is also ‘no evidence of sustained transmission beyond’ interconnected sexual networks of gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (GBMSM).
Meanwhile, joint guidance from UKHSA, Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and Public Health Agency Northern Ireland also published last week said that any ‘possible, probable or confirmed cases’ attending GP practices should be ‘placed in a single room for assessment’.
They should also be provided with a fluid-resistant (Type IIR) surgical mask ‘to wear as appropriate’ and pregnant women and severely immunosuppressed individuals ‘should not assess or clinically care for’ them ‘where possible’, it added.
It said that the ‘minimum’ PPE healthcare workers should wear for possible or probable cases is:
- fluid repellent surgical facemask (FRSM) (an FRSM should be replaced with an FFP3 respirator and eye protection if the case presents with a lower respiratory tract infection with a cough and/or changes on their chest x-ray indicating lower respiratory tract infection)
- eye protection is required if there is a risk of splash to the face and eyes (for example when taking diagnostic tests)
While the ‘minimum’ for ‘confirmed cases requiring ongoing clinical management’ such as ‘repeated assessment of an individual who is clinically unwell or deteriorating’ is:
- fit-tested FFP3 respirator
- eye protection
- long sleeved, fluid repellent, disposable gown
Up to 6 July, there were 1,517 laboratory-confirmed cases in the UK, of which 99% of cases in England are male and 74% are known to be London residents, according to UKHSA.
However, the clade of monkeypox currently circulating in the UK is no longer classified as a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) for NHS management, it said.
GPs in England are required to notify their local council or local Health Protection Team (HPT) if they suspect a patient has monkeypox, since new legislation was laid last month.
The UK’s public health agencies previously announced that a smallpox vaccination will also be offered to healthcare workers due to care for a patient with confirmed monkeypox and staff working in sexual health services who have been identified as assessing suspected cases.