The health and social care secretary has been urged to extend the mpox vaccination programme amid an increase in cases of the virus in London.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee Steve Brine has written to Steve Barclay outlining his concerns about the upcoming closure of the programme.
It comes after the UK Health Security Agency revealed last week that a further 10 cases of mpox – a virus which can be passed on by direct contact during sex and through contact with the clothing or linen of those infected – had been diagnosed in the UK since 4 May.
This brought the total number of new cases in the UK since the beginning of the year to 20. All of these most recent cases were diagnosed within London and half of them in unvaccinated individuals, the UKHSA said.
Since the outbreak was detected, the majority of cases have been identified in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Although anyone can contract the virus.
Last year the government launched a programme to roll out a smallpox vaccine, which was found to be effective against mpox, to those at high risk of the virus. It has largely been delivered by sexual health services.
Those eligible for the vaccine include gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men who have multiple sexual partners, participate in group sex or attend sex on premises venues. Some healthcare staff, including those who work in sexual health clinics designated to assess suspected mpox cases, are also eligible for the vaccine.
Under current plans, the programme is due to end for the first dose on 16 June and for the second dose on 31 July.
But Mr Brine has said there was ‘anxiety’ about the ending of the programme, ‘especially as the latest figures have shown a rise in the number of cases in London’.
In a letter sent to the health secretary on 5 June, Mr Brine called for the programme to continue for a longer period.
‘I’m sure you will agree with me that vaccination is crucial to protect people and keep numbers of new cases down,’ wrote Mr Brine.
‘With this in mind, I would urge you to consider extending the vaccination programme.’
He added: ‘I know that you will also agree that it’s vital to ensure that sexual health services are adequately paid to deliver the vaccinations as they are clearly an important part of the delivery network.’
Sexual health specialist nurse and co-chair of the STI Foundation Jodie Crossman told Nursing in Practice she supported Mr Brine in his appeal to the government.
‘As clinicians, we are concerned that the mpox vaccination programme will be closed before everyone who needs vaccines has been able to access them,’ she said.
‘Vaccination is a vital link in the chain to protect people and prevent onward transmission of mpox.’
Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV, registered nurse Belinda Loftus said she would ‘welcome a further discussion on the increasing numbers in London and extension of the vaccination programme’.
She added: ‘Services are still seeing patients who would be eligible for the vaccine as part of the current strategy.
‘This provides a good opportunity to engage in risk prevention discussion with patients, including making patients aware that there is still, albeit a reduction in the number of mpox cases compared to last year.
‘We are also conscious of the summer, the festivals and overseas travel which could have an impact.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We acted immediately to tackle the spread of mpox, moving early to secure 150,000 vaccines – enough to offer everybody at highest risk two doses – and rapidly began deploying jabs.
‘The UK’s mpox vaccination programme has been guided by the independent expert advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
‘Uptake of first doses has been high and eligible people can and should come forward for their second dose before the end of July.’