DENVER — Colorado is shifting its strategy to vaccinate as many high-risk individuals as possible against the monkeypox virus as the state awaits additional doses of the vaccine from the federal government, state health officials said Thursday.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has been administering first doses of the FDA-approved Jynneos vaccine over the past several weeks, but due to the “extremely limited” supply coming in from the strategic national stockpile, not enough doses are available to give people the required two-dose series right now.
Data from clinical trials suggests that receiving only the first dose of the Jynneos vaccine should offer early protection from monkeypox and that the second dose of the vaccine can be safely administered even if the recommended time window has passed, according to the CDPHE. The vaccine, which is thought to have an 85% efficacy rate against monkeypox, is typically given as a two-dose series 28 days apart.
“Until the federal supply of vaccines becomes more abundant, we need to prioritize getting this vaccine to as many at-risk people as possible as quickly as we can, while ensuring access for underserved and hard-to-reach communities across Colorado,” said Scott Bookman, the CDPHE’s division director of Disease Control and Public Health Response. “Our strategy is informed by the experiences of other states and countries. We will reevaluate this strategy if and when the federal vaccine supply increases.”
In a news release Thursday, CDPHE officials said they will open additional vaccine clinics next month and will let those who’ve already had their first dose know when they can go get their second one.
Vaccines are currently available for men who identify as gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) who’ve had multiple or anonymous sex partners within the past 14 days. Anyone who believes they have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox in the last 14 days also qualifies for the vaccine, CDPHE officials said.
Appointments for the monkeypox vaccine will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be made online after filling out this form, which includes a symptom screening process where Coloradans looking to get the vaccine can self-attest to their eligibility. Those eligible will then receive a follow-up confirmation email to schedule a vaccine appointment.
The CDPHE has previously said those who can’t go to a vaccination clinic but who believe they may have been exposed and want the vaccine should contact their health care provider as soon as possible.
While the recent outbreak suggests there is a heightened risk for contracting monkeypox among men who have sex with men, anyone can be infected – and not necessarily just through sex – if they’ve had close contact for prolonged periods of time with an infected person, health experts have stressed.
Biden administration to distribute hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses over the summer
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this month they expected to have more than 1 million doses distributed across the country over the summer, with more than 500,000 available throughout the fall.
The federal government is currently allocating vaccines to jurisdictions based on monkeypox case counts and the estimated size of the underlying population who might benefit from vaccination during the current outbreak, CDPHE officials said.
The shift in strategy comes as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) monkeypox emergency committee is expected to reconvene after initially declaring on June 25 that the monkeypox outbreak currently impacting more than 65 countries where the disease is not endemic did not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.
To date, more than 1,100 doses of the Jynneos vaccine have been administered in Colorado, including more than 1,000 vaccines given at 10 CDPHE-hosted clinics, state health officials said Thursday.
What to know about monkeypox
Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of western and central Africa, is caused by an infection from a virus in the same family as smallpox, causing a similar (but less severe) illness, according to Harvard Health.
Symptoms can include fever, headaches, muscle aches, exhaustion, backaches, swollen lymph nodes and chills, followed by a rash which usually begins in the face and spreads to other parts of the body, including the genital area and anus.
A study published Thursday on the New England Journal of Medicine, which followed 528 people in 16 countries, found new symptoms associated with the current outbreak outside Africa, including sores in the mouth, on the anal mucosa as well as single ulcers instead of rash spread across the body.
The incubation period for monkeypox is usually between a week and 14 days, but symptoms can appear in as little as 5 to as long as 21 days, according to the CDC.
In humans, the virus can spread through direct contact with the infectious rash and scabs of an infected person, and through large respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact – so it’s not a bad idea to continue wearing high-quality masks – as well as through intimate contact where bodily fluids are exchanged, such as through kissing or sex. Other less common ways the virus can spread is through contaminated clothing or linens. Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.
The CDC is currently investigating whether the disease can spread asymptomatically, just like SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Health officials are also investigating whether the virus could be present in semen, vaginal fluids, and fecal matter.
Complications from the disease can include pneumonia, vision loss due to eye infection, and sepsis, a life-threatening infection. The strain currently spreading across the world has a fatality rate of about 1%, health officials say.
As of Thursday, there were 2,323 confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S., including 37 in Colorado, and more than 15,000 cases across the globe.