A shortage of monkeypox vaccines could cause an “endemic public health challenge” and a procurement plan must be drawn up, a charity has warned.
The UK only has 8,300 monkeypox vaccines left but it needs 250,000 doses of the vaccine to vaccinate the estimated 125,000 people who are most vulnerable to the virus.
Current stocks represent 10-20 days of supply with no further shipments of the vaccine expected until late September, following the temporary shutdown of a vital factory.
The UK has seen around 3,000 people so far infected with the virus, which causes intense blistering across the body, with around 70% of cases concentrated in London. There have been around 31,400 confirmed cases of monkeypox across the globe.
Claire Dewsnap, the president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said the UK was facing “supply challenges” in obtaining the vaccine, and further said “without urgent action to procure more vaccines and avoid a gap in supply, we risk the disease spreading further throughout the UK and becoming an endemic public health challenge”.
Dewsnap called on government to produce a clear procurement plan for the vaccine. She said: “The Department of Health and Social Care urgently needs to publish a vaccine procurement and delivery plan – providing further detail on vaccine quantities and a procurement timeline, to ensure that all eligible people receive the recommended two doses.”
In an internal letter seen by the Financial Times, the NHS said it needed to “urgently” devise a plan to cover the period to the end of September, “bearing in mind these acute supply constraints and the urgency of reaching those at highest risk”.
There are global supply issues as the vaccine is currently only manufactured by one company, Bavarian Nordic, which closed its bulk manufacturing facility in spring of 2022 before the outbreak of monkeypox, to focus on the production of other vaccines such as rabies and encephalitis.
Bavarian Nordic said in its interim report in May that its European manufacturing plant will remain shut for the rest of 2022 as it undergoes expansion work. “In accordance with the expansion plans the bulk facility is currently shut down and will not reopen until third quarter of 2022 thus restricting the bulk manufacturing capacity in 2022,” the report said.
However, Wired reported that the manufacturing plant had reopened early in response to the increased demand for the vaccine following the outbreak.
The World Health Organisation said: “Global supply is being assessed with manufacturers and partners to support sufficient supply, and mechanisms for access are being developed.”
The UK Health Security Agency, which is handling the vaccine rollout, and Bavarian Nordic have been approached for comment.
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