Hundreds of people at high risk of contracting the monkeypox virus will be offered a vaccine in the next few weeks, according to the Health Service Executive.
About 6,000 people are at heightened risk from the disease and 10 per cent of them will be vaccinated from current supplies in the first phase of the vaccine rollout, it said on Wednesday.
The rollout is part of a widening of the vaccination programme as recommended by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, which advised the people at risk be vaccinated before they are exposed to the virus.
The HSE says it sought the guidance of clinical and ethical experts to develop a plan for the initial offer of the limited supply of vaccines currently available. It also engaged closely with advocacy and support groups to seek their input into the plan.
Supplies of vaccine in Ireland and the EU are “low and limited”, it says, but EU states are actively exploring options to increase it in the medium and long-term.
“Based on current indications in relation to global supplies of vaccines the second phase of vaccine roll out in Ireland is likely to commence later this year and into next year,” the HSE says.
Up to now, vaccines have been offered to close contacts of cases. In this next stage, the HSE will prioritise the vaccine for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) and transgender people who have had a notification to the HSE’s infection disease monitoring system, known as CIDR, of early infectious syphilis between December 2021 and July 2022.
“This group is being prioritised because the nature of the spread of syphilis is similar to that of monkeypox, and syphilis also disproportionately affects gay, bisexual and other gbMSM, when compared to other sexually transmitted infections.”
“In addition, the majority of these patients are diagnosed through sexual health clinics which means they can be more quickly identified and invited for vaccination.”
“Services will begin to contact these people directly in the coming days and it is expected that people identified will receive the vaccine over the coming weeks. The confidentiality of these individuals will be protected.”
So far, all 101 cases of monkeypox in Ireland are in people who self-identify as gbMSM. Case numbers have stabilised in recent weeks.
Opposition parties and advocacy groups have in recent weeks criticised the speed of the vaccine rollout for monkeypox.
HIV Ireland called on the Government to take “urgent action to procure additional vaccine stock as the current supply falls far short of what is required to end the monkeypox outbreak in Ireland”.