healthHealth and Medicine

UK Offering Smallpox Vaccine To High-Risk People As Monkeypox Cases Rise


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMay 19 2022, 15:37 UTC

This 1997 image was created during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Image credit: Brian W.J. Mahy/CDC Public Health Image Library

Faced with a small but growing number of monkeypox cases, the UK is now offering a smallpox vaccine to high-risk healthcare workers and others who have been potentially exposed to the virus, according to Reuters.

Pharmaceutical company Bavarian Nordic also announced on Thursday that they’ve signed a deal with an “undisclosed European country” to supply its smallpox vaccine in response to new cases of monkeypox.


The virus that causes monkeypox is part of the same family as smallpox. Since the two are so closely related, the smallpox vaccine can protect against monkeypox. Past data from Africa suggests that the smallpox vaccine may be at least 85 percent effective in preventing monkeypox, per the US CDC, although there's not much data on the subject.

“There is currently a monkeypox vaccine under development, but smallpox vaccine and treatments could be deployed to control any monkeypox outbreak, but we don’t know how successful that might be because it’s never been tried," Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, commented on May 17.

Symptoms of monkeypox are also similar to albeit milder than smallpox – albiet milder – with patients experiencing fever, achy muscles, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, and a rash, then later more visible symptoms like macules, papules, vesicles, pustules, and scabs.

While typically most patients suffer from a mild illness and recover relatively quickly, the disease can be fatal, especially for younger people, and some people can develop more serious symptoms. 


The UK has confirmed a total of nine monkeypox cases this month, with recent cases predominantly in gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men (MSM). Many of these cases have also not traveled to West or Central Africa, where the disease is endemic and naturally found in wild primates and rodents.

The rare infection has since been spotted in the US and Spain, while further suspected cases are being investigated in Canada.

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection first identified in monkeys in 1958, before being confirmed in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, human cases of monkeypox have been reported from 11 African countries: Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan.

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