Overall, cases of monkeypox in the U.S. have fallen since their peak in August. Still, health officials are working to vaccinate individuals who are at risk of contracting the illness, especially in areas where infections continue to rise.
Americans have access to two different shots that can help prevent the disease, which usually comes with flu-like symptoms and a painful or itchy rash. But due to limited supplies and a preference for one vaccine over the other, only some people are being encouraged to get vaccinated right now.
Here’s what you need to know about the monkeypox vaccines being used in the current outbreak, including whether you might be eligible for a jab.
What are the vaccine options?
The first is called Jynneos; it’s a two-shot series (given four weeks apart) that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for prevention of smallpox and monkeypox. This is the preferred vaccine in the U.S., and the one that is available to most of the public. Supplies are limited, however. Millions more doses are expected to trickle into the country by mid-2023.
There’s also an older smallpox vaccine, called ACAM2000, that can be used to prevent monkeypox in the current outbreak under a special expanded access protocol. This single-shot vaccine uses a live version of another pox virus, and unlike Jynneos, it has the potential for more side effects and adverse events such as myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation and swelling of the heart and surrounding tissues) and potentially serious skin infections. “It can cause problems in some individuals,” says Richard Kennedy, a professor of medicine and codirector of the Vaccine Research Group at Mayo Clinic, and is not recommended for people with severely weakened immune systems and for people with skin and heart conditions.
Who should get one?
People who are most likely to get monkeypox should get the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, though this advice could change as supplies increase. And even though anyone can get monkeypox, the vast majority of individuals who are getting infected right now are gay, bisexual or other men who are having sex with men and with multiple partners in areas where the virus is spreading, health experts say. Risks are much lower for people in monogamous relationships.
How Does Monkeypox Spread?
Monkeypox spreads through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, including:
- Direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs or body fluids from a person with monkeypox.
- Touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding or towels) and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
- Contact with respiratory secretions from a person with monkeypox.
A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed (typically two to four weeks).
“But I like to emphasize there’s nothing about the way the virus moves that cares about your gender, who you love, who you hang out with. There is no reason that this needs to stay in those populations,” Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health and an associate professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, said in a news briefing.
In fact, monkeypox vaccine eligibility in some communities is open to all people who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks. There have also been reports of children being infected from household contacts (the virus is not just sexually transmitted; it can spread through direct contact with the infectious rash), something the World Health Organization (WHO) is keeping a close eye on.
However, the advice for now is that those at highest risk for contracting the virus should be first in line for the shot. Another high-risk group includes people whose jobs may expose them to monkeypox, such as lab workers who test for the virus and other health care professionals.
Finally, you should get vaccinated if you know you were exposed to monkeypox, since the vaccine can prevent the onset of disease or limit the severity of illness even after exposure. And the sooner you get it, the better: The CDC recommends getting the vaccine within four days of exposure.