Tory government is ‘failing’ queer men as monkeypox cases surge, says gay MP

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a monkeypox vaccine in Florida

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle has accused the government of “failing” on monkeypox.

UK monkeypox cases reached 2,137 on Monday (18 July). More than per cent of the 2,050 cases in England have been identified in London, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The government said on Tuesday (19 July) it had obtained more than 100,000 doses of the smallpox vaccine being used against monkeypox.

This came amid criticism of a slow roll-out for the vaccine, which is being offered to queer men (with eligibility based on a number of factors), people who might be exposed to monkeypox through work and those who have been exposed to the virus.

There are 18 sexual health clinics in London now offering the vaccine. They include 56 Dean Street in Soho, which received a visit from Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle on Wednesday.

Moyle said he was “shocked” by what he heard during the visit, and accused the government of “failing to act” while monkeypox “moves silently through the gay community”.

“The government’s response is inadequate and we need action now,” said the MP.

He went to detail some of the worst cases shared with him.

“In worst 10 per cent, ulcers so bad in urethra patients weren’t able to pass urine, ulcers in throat which had burned through the oesophagus and ulcers in eyes that could blind without treatment,” he tweeted.

“Transmission is not like COVID and requires sustained skin-to-skin contact to contract it.”

Russell-Moyle warned that not only does the public have next to no knowledge of monkeypox, but neither do general practitioners (GPs). He called on public health officials to better educate the public and healthcare providers alike on what the signs of infection are.

“If we don’t get this under control it will spread more broadly into the general population,” he said.

While officials and some advocates do not believe monkeypox should be considered an STI, as it can be transmitted through non-sexual contact, Russell-Moyle believes it should be.

“Health officials need to call this what it is, an STI that is currently affecting men who have sex with men,” he said.

“If we don’t get this under control it will spread more broadly into the general population.”

Some 95 per cent of monkeypox cases have been transmitted through sexual activity, according to the largest study to date published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.

Researchers stressed, however, that the virus is not a sexually transmitted infection and can be spread via other means, such as respiratory droplets.

While monkeypox is primarily being detected among queer men, anybody can acquire the virus.

Russell-Moyle, who lives with HIV, said that lessons from the AIDS epidemic need to be remembered for monkeypox.

“The AIDS crisis ravaged our community in the 1980s until we spoke out to force action I thought times might have changed but it seems I was naive.”

Monkeypox has several easy-to-spot symptoms. It creates a red rash with flat marks that soon raise and fill with puss, while many patients say they experience fever and body aches.

Symptoms usually take around six to 13 days to show but can take as long as three weeks, the NHS says. Bouts of monkeypox last around two to four weeks.

The monkeypox vaccine being distributed is Imvanex, which is typically used for smallpox.

Those who are being offered the vaccine include healthcare workers and clinicians offering the vaccine, queer men and men who have sex with men who have multiple partners and those who have already been in contact with an infected person, the UKHSA says.

Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations, said in a statement: “The NHS is now scaling up its plans to get people vaccinated, particularly in London, thanks to the efforts of staff who are working hard to help stop onward spread, in line with UKHSA advice.”

“Thousands more people will be invited very shortly with the number of clinics expanded too, and as we have done with the most successful COVID vaccination programme in history, the NHS will leave no stone unturned in ensuring everyone who is eligible can get protected.

“We are asking people to wait to be contacted and to come forward at the earliest opportunity possible when invited to get vaccinated.”