In a significant development, government health advisers have recommended that gay and bisexual men at high risk for mpox infection should continue to receive vaccinations even after the current outbreak subsides. The advisory committee’s decision is now awaiting approval from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and if ratified, it will serve as official guidance for medical professionals across the United States.
Last year, the U.S. witnessed over 30,000 reported cases of mpox infection, a number that has significantly decreased this year to approximately 800 cases. Despite this reduction, the CDC classifies any single mpox case as an outbreak since the virus does not naturally circulate in the country. This illness, formerly known as monkeypox, shares its origins with the smallpox virus and is endemic in certain regions of Africa, often transmitted through bites from rodents or small animals.
Notably, mpox was not historically known for easy human-to-human transmission. However, a surge in cases occurred in Europe and the United States during the spring and summer of 2022, with the majority of cases affecting men who have sex with men. While fatalities were infrequent, many individuals endured weeks of painful skin lesions.
The Jynneos vaccine, administered in two doses, emerged as a primary defense against mpox in the United States. It is primarily recommended for gay and bisexual men who have multiple sexual partners, recent history of sexually transmitted diseases, or other heightened risks of infection through sexual contact.
Approximately 500,000 individuals in the U.S. have received the recommended two doses of the vaccine, accounting for a quarter of the eligible 2 million population, according to CDC officials. The new advisory not only underscores the ongoing presence of the virus but also highlights the potential for infection during international travel.
Currently, the daily average of new mpox cases in the U.S. stands at one to four, although some cases may go undiagnosed. Two mpox-related deaths were reported in September, bringing the U.S. death toll to 54 since the outbreak began last year. While San Francisco experienced over 800 cases last year, the numbers have significantly dropped in the first half of this year. However, a recent uptick in cases underscores the importance of continued vigilance and vaccination efforts.
Dr. Stephanie Cohen, overseeing STD prevention work at San Francisco’s health department, acknowledged the progress made since the previous summer but emphasized the need for ongoing vigilance, stating, “Things are much better than they were last summer, but there are still many more cases than there should be.” The recommendation aims to ensure that high-risk communities remain protected against this infectious disease.