Thérèse Coffey is leaving the UK vulnerable to monkeypox | Ceri Smith

Reports that the new health secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has rejected the expert advice of her officials to buy an additional 70,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine are deeply worrying and short-sighted.

Less than a month into the role, Coffey is said to have gone against the advice of those leading the country’s response, taking a critical decision that leaves the UK vulnerable to future monkeypox outbreaks.

The UK has now recorded more than 3,500 cases, and in July the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. And the vast majority of cases are among homosexual and bisexual men. The infection is mainly spread among homosexuals’ sexual networks as a result of close contact during sex.

While the UK has just received a second batch of vaccine, to manage the monkeypox emergency response and immunize those currently at highest risk of exposure, the government needs to have a long-term plan to protect the health of the population, including adequate vaccine supplies.

These initial doses – while protecting many thousands more than initially predicted – are still part of the emergency response to get a grip on the epidemic. They are not enough to protect against monkeypox in the long term, which is why securing additional doses for 2023 is not negotiable. Monkeypox is a serious communicable disease that has an effective vaccine available, we need to make it available to people if they want it.

This latest problem is unfortunately not an outlier in the UK’s smallpox response. It has been a bumpy road so far, with poor communication about vaccination availability resulting in snaking queues of gay and bisexual men waiting for hours outside clinics to be vaccinated after seeing tip-offs about the locations on Twitter.

There is a lack of meaningful leadership at the top of government. This can be seen in the staggering support for sexual health services, the displacement of crucial HIV and sexual health testing as clinic capacity is taken up in response to smallpox, and an initial underestimation of how many would need to be vaccinated.

The UK Health Security Agency has been crystal clear that vaccination is absolutely crucial to controlling the outbreak and preventing monkeypox from becoming endemic. So far, more than 40,000 of the 110,000 gay and bisexual men identified as being at highest risk have been jabbed.

The UK has enough jabs to vaccinate all those 110,000, but we will need more to protect those gay men next in line who do not meet the current risk criteria (which is similar to being eligible for HIV -prevention drug PrEP) who are still vulnerable to monkeypox. And also of course to prevent further outbreaks.

In recent weeks, we have seen a drop in new cases, which is probably a result of the targeted vaccination program for homosexual and bisexual men, as well as changes in sexual behavior among this group. In addition, the switch to intradermal vaccination (where a smaller volume of vaccine is injected into the top layer of the skin) means that each dose can be used to vaccinate up to five people while still providing the same level of protection give We cannot simply stop here, with many still at risk and the virus still circulating.

It is unacceptable to tell gay and bisexual men “you’re on your own” once the current vaccine supply is gone. And if future outbreaks affect groups beyond gay and bisexual men who are currently at highest risk, we simply won’t have the vaccine supply needed to get on top of it quickly.

So our message to the Health Secretary is clear: listen to the experts on this and ensure the UK is resilient in the face of future monkeypox. We need to get in the global queue for more monkeypox vaccine – and fast.

Ceri Smith is Head of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust