Clinics nationwide will begin offering vaccinations against monkeypox to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, federal health officials announced on Tuesday.
Until now, immunizations were offered only to people with a known exposure.
States will receive doses of a safer and newer monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos from the federal stockpile, based on the number of cases and the proportion of the state’s population at risk for severe disease, the officials said at a news briefing.
State health authorities may also request supplies of an older vaccine developed for smallpox, which is believed to protect against monkeypox, as well.
The Department of Health and Human services will provide 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine immediately and an additional 240,000 doses in the coming weeks. Another 750,000 doses are expected to become available over the summer, and a total of 1.6 million doses by the end of this year.
“This vaccine currently has some limitations on supply, and for this reason the administration’s current vaccine strategy prioritizes making it available to those who need it most urgently,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
The older smallpox vaccine, called ACAM2000, is associated with harsh side effects, including death, in people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women and older adults.
The new vaccination plan drew quick criticism from experts, who said the campaign was too small and slow to make an impact. The longer it takes to contain the monkeypox outbreak, the greater the chances that the virus will become entrenched in the United States, particularly among men who have sex with men, researchers warned.
“Many of us are concerned that the window is closing for us to be able to eliminate monkeypox,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert and editor at large for public health at Kaiser Health News.
“If we don’t start vaccinating more quickly and broadly, we’re going to have a very difficult time containing this,” she said. Ideally, tests and vaccines for monkeypox could have been offered at L.G.B.T.Q. Pride events across the country in order to reach men at high risk of contracting the virus, Dr. Gounder added.
Some experts said the plan was also unfair to men at risk who will not have access to the Jynneos vaccine, especially those who have H.I.V. and cannot safely take the older smallpox vaccine.
“There won’t be enough to meet the need,” said Elizabeth Finley, director of communications for the National Coalition of STD Directors. “Plus, without better testing capacity, a strategy based on contacts with a positive case falls flat.”
It’s also not clear what qualifies as a probable exposure, she added: “Do you need to know someone at the event tested positive, or do you just say, ‘Oh, I went to a rave and I want to be safe’?”
Many clinicians are worried about side effects and scarring from the older smallpox vaccine, as well as the misinformation and vaccine hesitancy they might fuel, Ms. Finley said. “We’ve had clinicians say that there’s no way in hell they would give somebody ACAM2000,” she said.
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