Monkeypox: Gay and bisexual men to be offered vaccines in Ireland after mounting pressure

A man receives a vaccination dose against monkeypox

The Irish government has announced a targeted monkeypox vaccine programme for queer men after being criticised for failing to act more quickly.

Officials have been facing mounting pressure over Ireland’s lack of a targeted vaccine programme, with AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP, accusing the government and public health bosses of failing the LGBTQ+ community.

There have been at least 69 confirmed monkeypox cases in Ireland as of 22 July, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, part of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE). 

As the outbreak continues to grow globally, Ireland has secured a limited number of vaccines against monkeypox as part of a joint EU order of 110,000 doses. The first doses arrived on 15 July, but without a plan to prioritise queer men, who make up the majority of cases worldwide.

After ACT UP Dublin wrote to health minister Stephen Donnelly, the NIAC and the Health Service Executive (HSE), it was confirmed on Tuesday (26 July) that queer men will be prioritised for the vaccine.

In a similar scheme to Britain’s, Donnelly has now announced that “high-risk” demographics will take precedence – queer men and other men who have sex with men included.

The plan came after recommendations from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and interim chief medical officer professor Breda Smyth, according to the Department of Health.

Donnelly said the guidance “represents an important step” in Ireland’s response to monkeypox and will “help protect those at high risk of exposure to monkeypox”.

Monkeypox cases surge in UK

Monkeypox lesions. (MarioGuti/Getty Images)

“Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting illness, and most people recover within a few weeks, however, the rapid spread of infection necessitates further measures beyond those currently in place,” he said.

“The evidence suggests this approach to targeted pre-exposure prophylaxis may be highly efficient in controlling the further spread of the disease.”

Ireland confirmed its first case of monkeypox in May.

Dr John Gilmore, assistant professor in Nursing at University College Dublin and an ACT UP Dublin activist, told PinkNews that the lack of clarity up until this point has impacted the health and well-being of the queer community.

“You might get 15,000 vaccines next week, but the fact we don’t know about it this week is impacting our health and well-being,” Gilmore said.

“It’s about telling people that they’re important by saying we are going to get this ready, we’re ready to go. Once we get the vaccines, then we’ll give them out. This is how we’ll do that, this is who will benefit.

“It’s the slowness and a lack of priority which is quite frustrating.”

Gilmore said healthcare experts weren’t surprised when the virus reached Ireland – what he was surprised by, however, was Ireland’s response to it.

Speaking before the new strategy was announced, he said: “I think that if we have a vaccine that we know is effective and we’re not rolling it out to those most at risk, then it is negligence. Gay and bi men have experienced negligence in healthcare before and continue to experience it again and again again.”

ACT-UP Dublin said in a statement to PinkNews: “We know monkeypox can affect anyone but right now it is spreading amongst GBMSM in Ireland.

“It is vital that the HSE follows up its announcement with clear messaging on when, where and how people can access the vaccine in Ireland.”