The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expanded eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine Wednesday, allowing greater access for those most likely to be exposed to the virus.
Colorado has received 18,885 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, and San Juan Basin Public Health has doses ready at locations in Durango and Pagosa Springs.
Previously, the vaccine was available to anyone exposed to monkeypox in the past 14 days or to anyone who had close physical contact with someone with monkeypox in the past 14 days.
“The data is still showing that the vast majority of infections are in men ages 45 and younger who have sex with other men,” said SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon. “While anyone can become infected with the virus, it is predominantly traveling among those populations and others who come into close contact with infected individuals.”
Vaccine access has now expanded to include those who have been diagnosed with gonorrhea or syphilis in the past three months or those who use or are eligible for HIV prevention medication, as well as people who engage in commercial or transactional sex.
“We wanted to ensure our eligibility criteria is inclusive of anyone who may have been exposed to monkeypox or who has been in a higher-risk setting, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation,” said CDPHE spokesperson Brian Spencer.
The Jynneos vaccine was originally developed to protect against smallpox, which is closely related to the monkeypox virus.
Spencer said the state has already received 18,885 doses of the vaccine.
“Studies from the 1980s showed that vaccine to be roughly 85% effective in preventing infection from the monkeypox strain at that time, which is different from the strain currently in circulation,” Jollon said.
She said while there is little data about the clinical efficacy of the vaccine against the current strain of monkeypox, medical experts can draw on that past experience to infer that it offers protection against infection.
Monkeypox has been spreading in several countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and European countries. As of Wednesday, 222 cases had been reported in Colorado.
After not seeing a case until mid-May, the country has recorded almost 20,000 cases over the last three months.
“There are some signs of plateau or even decline in cases possibly due to uptake of vaccine in folks who are high risk or due to adjustments in behavior,” Jollon said.
According to the CDPHE, the sooner an exposed person gets the vaccine, the better. The vaccine can help keep people from getting sick at all if they receive it within four days of exposure to the virus. If they get the vaccine between four and 14 days after exposure, it can help prevent severe illness but may not completely prevent infection.
Early symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. Most people get a rash or skin bumps one to three days after they first start feeling sick. This rash usually starts on the face and then spreads to the arms and legs. Monkeypox can also look like other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis or herpes.
“The bottom line is that this infection remains active in Colorado and can be extraordinarily painful or debilitating for those who catch it, therefore it is best that we use all of the tools available to keep ourselves healthy and safe,” Jollon said.
Spencer said those who meet the criteria should talk with a health care provider to determine whether vaccination is right for them. CDPHE is currently focusing vaccination efforts on those at high risk, but the department will continue to revisit eligibility criteria as the monkeypox situation evolves and federal supply increases.