Health secretary Thérèse Coffey ignored advice to replenish stocks of monkeypox vaccine

Thérèse Coffey wears a striped top as she walks out a door

Health secretary Thérèse Coffey has been accused of ‘jeopardising public health’ after she decided not to secure extra monkeypox vaccines despite advice from officials.

Coffey decided not to purchase a recommended 70,000 extra doses of the monkeypox vaccine on 21 September, according to a report by the Financial Times. The UK health security agency (UKHSA) recommended the nation boost its supply of the vaccine to protect in the long-term against a potential resurgence of monkeypox. 

However, Coffey reportedly declined to bolster the UK’s supply of monkeypox vaccines as there were concerns the additional doses didn’t represent value for money. The move left UKHSA officials “in shock”, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times

Leading health charities urged Thérèse Coffey to make dealing with monkeypox a top priority. Danny Beales, head of policy and campaigns at the National AIDS Trust, said there needed to be “urgent action of monkeypox” from Coffey as the “outbreak has not so far had the resources and attention it needs”. 

The Terrence Higgins Trust wrote on Twitter that it hoped the report that Coffey rejected advice from health officials to stock up on monkeypox vaccines. The charity said such a decision “would be concerning and shortsighted in terms of the UK’s ongoing monkeypox response”. 

“We need to secure vaccines while the opportunity is there,” the Terrence Higgins Trust said. “We will urgently raise this with the health secretary.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting vowed on Twitter to also raise such concerns with Coffey as the government’s response to monkeypox “over the summer was flatfooted and unacceptable”. 

“Incompetence is bad enough,” Streeting said. “A deliberate choice that jeopardises public health against official advice would be unconscionable.”

PrEPster also criticised Thérèse Coffey for “playing politics with the health of our communities”. 

A government spokesperson told PinkNews that the UK has “enough doses of the monkeypox vaccine to offer everybody eligible two doses” and said the government isn’t “complacent” in tackling the outbreak. 

“We acted immediately to tackle the spread of monkeypox, moving early to secure 150,000 vaccines amid global shortages and rapidly deploying jabs to those most at risk,” the spokesperson added.

They continued: “While cases are falling in the UK, we are not complacent and we continue to encourage people to remain vigilant and take up the offer of a vaccine if eligible. 

“We continue to monitor the situation and decisions about future supply will be made and communicated in the usual way.”

Coffey has a long history of opposing the roll out of broader rights for the LGBTQ+ community including repeatedly voting against same-sex marriage in the past. She also stated her opposition to mandatory sex and relationships education in schools. 

Coffey said as recently as 2020 that she’s still firmly against same-sex marriage. She told Sky News that she has a “strong faith background about what is a legal partnership and what is marriage”

The UKHSA reported there were 3,485 confirmed cases and 150 highly probably monkeypox cases in the UK up to 26 September. Of these, 3,461 were in England, 94 were in Scotland, 46 were in Wales and 34 were in Northern Ireland. 

People line up to receive monkeypox vaccinations at Guys Hospital in London

A government spokesperson says health officials are “not complacent” in tackling the ongoing monkeypox outbreak in the UK. (Getty)

The World Health Organization classified the global monkeypox outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern” in July. In August, LGBTQ+ groups from across the political spectrum warned then-health secretary Steve Barclay that monkeypox could become “endemic” in the UK if the government doesn’t “get a grip” on the outbreak

The virus has so far disproportionately affected gay, bisexual and queer men as well as other people within the LGBTQ+ community. However, experts have emphasised that anyone can get monkeypox and warned against reinforcing “homophobic and racist stereotypes” and exacerbating stigma. 

Common symptoms include blisters, muscle aches, headaches, swollen glands and chills. 

Public health officials have said the virus can spread through close, personal – often skin-to-skin – contact. This can include direct contact with monkeypox blisters or scabs; touching objects, fabrics and surfaces used; and contact with respiratory secretions such as coughs or sneezes.