Thank you to all those who have contacted me about the monkeypox outbreak.
More than 3,600 cases of the virus have been confirmed across the UK and the World Health Organization has declared it a public health emergency of international concern.
The evidence that monkeypox disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (GBMSM) is clear, which is why sexual health charities and LGBT+ groups have been warning for weeks that urgent, targeted action is needed to prevent the disease from becoming endemic.
I share your concern, however, that the Government has been slow in its response. There has been no ministerial statement to Parliament and reports suggest the Health Secretary has rejected advice from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to procure an additional 70,000 doses of monkeypox vaccines.
The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV says a minimum of 250,000 doses of vaccine are needed. Yet as of 28 September, only 46,000 doses have been made available to the NHS.
I am concerned the decision to block the procurement of additional vaccines risks jeopardising public health. It goes against official advice and it has been widely criticised by health charities. I am pleased that the Shadow Health Secretary is urgently raising this issue with the Government and has written to the Health Secretary to seek clarity on any advice she has received to reject the UKHSA’s recommendations.
More widely, I believe it is unacceptable that GBMSM have had to rely on information from social media and from those within their community for public health information. COVID-19 demonstrated how important it is that clear and accurate guidance must be published and promoted, alongside information on vaccine eligibility, so that everyone that needs to comes forward.
Campaigners similarly fear the knock-on effects of monkeypox. Local sexual health services, which have suffered a 14% real-terms funding cut since 2015/16, are having to deprioritise other duties to respond to this new threat, including the provision of the HIV prevention drug PrEP.
Earlier this year, the Opposition set out its ‘Learning to live well with COVID’ plan, which called for a standing army of volunteers ready to deliver vaccines at pace. These volunteers could supplement the work of sexual health clinics, taking the pressure off them and ensuring vital tasks like PrEP provision can continue.
I urge the Government to step up and show it is meeting this issue with the urgency required. Ministers must take a leading role in the global effort to secure vaccine supplies and commission a public health information campaign to reach those most at risk.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this issue.