Public Health

Do I Need a Monkeypox Vaccine?

Talor Bianchini
Talor Bianchini27 Jun 2022

Throughout the past couple of weeks, there has been an increase in cases of monkeypox, a very rare and dangerous disease. Luckily, an FDA-approved vaccine, JYNNEOS, is used to prevent monkeypox. The vaccine is effective both before and after coming into contact with the virus. So far, the risk of getting monkeypox is still very low in the United States. Therefore, you most likely do not need a monkeypox vaccine.  

Who Needs a Monkeypox Vaccine

With so many news outlets covering the newest monkeypox outbreak, you may be wondering whether or not it's necessary to get a monkeypox vaccine. The short answer is no; you most likely do not need it. 

Currently, the only people being offered the monkeypox vaccine are those deemed to be at high risk. This includes those that have come into contact with suspected and confirmed monkeypox cases, such as family and friends, healthcare workers, and scientists confirming cases in laboratories. There are over 1,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine available in the U.S., which is enough to cover the current number of cases. 

The vaccines will be distributed on a need basis, rather than everyone in the country getting vaccinated. Although this is a rare outbreak, officials don't expect monkeypox to spread like COVID-19. Additionally, pox-type viruses (like monkeypox or smallpox) do not mutate as quickly as others. Therefore, the current monkeypox vaccine, JYNNEOS, is expected to be effective against the disease for the foreseeable future. 

JYNNEOS Vaccine

The JYNNEOS vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September of 2019. Although initially developed for smallpox, the vaccine is also effective against the monkeypox virus because of their close relation. It is meant for those ages 18 and older only. The vaccine was made part of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in case of an emergency outbreak (like May 2022) since smallpox was formally eradicated in 1980. 

The vaccine contains a virus closely related to smallpox and monkeypox, but it cannot replicate in humans. It is administered in two doses that occur roughly 28 days apart. Previous studies have shown that the vaccine has an 85 percent efficacy rate against monkeypox. It is most effective when given before any exposure has occurred, although it could reduce the severity of monkeypox symptoms if received after. The CDC recommends waiting no longer than four days after exposure to ensure the disease is prevented. 

After receiving the vaccine, there may be possible side effects. According to the FDA, this could include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain at the injection site

It should be noted that the side effects of the vaccine are much less severe than that of smallpox or monkeypox virus. 

What Is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a very rare disease that is a part of the Orthopoxvirus genus (as well as smallpox and cowpox). Although originally spotted in monkeys, the first human case was noted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970. Since then, there have been human cases in surrounding countries in Africa, with little spread in other parts of the world. Before May 2022, there was a noted outbreak in the U.S. of monkeypox in 2003, where 47 cases were reported. 

Signs and Symptoms

Because monkeypox and smallpox are related, they have very similar symptoms, with monkeypox being the milder of the two. After becoming infected, people may not notice symptoms until 5-21 days later. The first onset of symptoms will typically include:

A rash will begin to develop anywhere between one to ten days after these initial symptoms. The skin lesions are usually found on the arms and legs and start as macules and papules. These will then turn into vesicles, pustules, and scabs until they finally fall off the body. This entire process can last two to four weeks. 

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Transmission of Monkeypox

There are several ways in which a person can come into contact with the monkeypox virus. Unlike COVID-19, the disease is mainly spread through bodily fluids. This could look like a bite from an animal, contact with an infected person's blood or body fluid, or touching contaminated bedding/sheets. Therefore, to contract the virus, prolonged exposure is required. You cannot get monkeypox just by standing in the same room as an infected person or animal. 

Unfortunately, there is not as much information on how the virus is typically transmitted in animals. It is still unknown what kind of animal is the leading carrier of the disease. However, African rodents may be a contender. If monkeypox is suspected in the area you live in, keep your pets/other animals away from any animal that appears to be infected or has been found dead. 

Monkeypox Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Since monkeypox is not a frequently spoken about disease, you may have some unanswered questions about the latest outbreak. Below are answers we compiled to help you learn more about the monkeypox virus. 

How long are you contagious with monkeypox?

Someone may be contagious with monkeypox as early as one day before their rash appears and as late as 21 days after the first sign of symptoms. People are no longer contagious when all of their skin lesions have scabbed over, and they have no other active symptoms. 

Can you survive monkeypox?

Yes, you can survive monkeypox. Since there are relatively low numbers of monkeypox cases in humans, it is difficult to get an exact estimate of the mortality rate. It typically causes death in one in ten people who contract the disease in Africa. 

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Is there a cure for monkeypox?

As of now, there is no proven cure or treatment for monkeypox. Although the vaccine may lessen symptoms if received after infection, there is no guarantee it will make the disease go away completely. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid contact with suspected cases of monkeypox and get the vaccine as soon as you have been contaminated. 

Who is at risk for monkeypox?

Currently, the people at risk for developing monkeypox have been in contact with infected individuals, such as healthcare workers or friends/family members. Those at risk of developing severe symptoms would include children, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems. 

Additionally, of the recent outbreaks, many of the cases have been reported by men who have sex with men. Although this disease is not exclusive to this group of people, it's important to stress the need to practice safe sex. Make sure to look for any unusual changes in the genital area, and go to a doctor right away. 

Where is monkeypox spreading?

The current monkeypox outbreak is primarily spreading throughout Europe and North America. Confirmed cases have been found in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Canada, Slovenia, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates, and potentially more countries. 

Bottom Line

A monkeypox outbreak is currently occurring in many European and North American countries. The only vaccine known to prevent monkeypox is JYNNEOS, which the FDA approved in 2019. Vaccines are only being administered to those at high risk of developing the disease, such as those who have come into close contact with infected individuals. As a result, most people do not need to get a monkeypox vaccine. It is not expected that a widespread outbreak of monkeypox (like the COVID-19 pandemic) will occur. 

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