The UK government has confirmed it intends to wind down its vaccination campaign against mpox, which began in May 2022 and has disproportionately affected men who have sex with men.
The decision made by the UK government follows the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) confirmation that mpox, a virus formerly known as monkeypox, remains a public health emergency of international concern, with almost 90,000 cases and 97 deaths being recorded across more than 110 countries since May last year.
Dr Rosamund Lewis, from the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, emphasized the importance of reducing the risk of infection, particularly for men who have sex with men. She recommended reducing the number of sexual partners and being mindful when attending events where sexual activity may occur. Lewis also warned that the risk of the virus spreading could increase in the northern hemisphere as gatherings and activities increase for spring and summer.
Although the WHO still considers mpox an international public health emergency, the UK has moved towards ending its mpox vaccination campaign. However, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) stated that it would continue to closely monitor case numbers and retain the ability to restart the vaccination program if necessary. The United States and Ireland have already ended their mpox vaccination programs due to decreasing case numbers.
The WHO’s Dr Rosamund Lewis added that new information has come to light since case numbers spiked in May 2022.
While the outbreak initially appeared to affect primarily Caucasian men in Europe and North America, it has now spread to more marginalized and ethnic and racial groups such as Black and Latino men.
These groups have a higher rate of acquiring mpox in their communities and have limited access to prevention measures, facing greater stigma and discrimination. Despite the downward trend in case numbers, Lewis praised men who have sex with men for taking charge of their own health to reduce the risk and spread of the virus.