Smallpox vaccine is effective against monkeypox

Data from previous studies show that the smallpox vaccine is about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, the WHO and CDC say.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the outbreak of monkeypox in several countries a global public health emergency.

This is because tens of thousands of cases have been reported in more than 70 countries, including several thousand in the United States

As cases have increased worldwide, some people are looking for ways to prevent infection. Expectations on social media say that smallpox vaccines provide protection against monkeypox infection.

THE QUESTION

Do smallpox vaccines protect against monkeypox infection?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, smallpox vaccines offer protection against monkeypox infection.

WHAT WE FOUND

Because monkeypox is “closely related” to the virus that causes smallpox, smallpox vaccines “can protect people from monkeypox,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Data from previous studies shows the smallpox vaccine is about 85% effective in preventing monkeypox when given before someone is exposed to the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC say. The vaccine may also be effective in preventing disease or reducing the severity of symptoms when given soon after exposure to monkeypox.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines for the prevention of smallpox: ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS.

The ACAM2000 vaccine is FDA-approved for use in smallpox prevention, but the CDC has expanded access to also allow its use for monkeypox, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

The JYNNEOS vaccine was approved by the FDA in September 2019 for use in the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox. People with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, as well as those with compromised immune systems, should only use the JYNNEOS vaccine, according to the CDC.

President Joe Biden’s administration has increased distribution of both vaccines, but they are not readily available to everyone. Vaccinations are currently limited to those most at risk of contracting monkeypox, including people who have been exposed to someone who has monkeypox, people who have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners, and men who have sex with men.

Local and state health officials are making immunization eligibility decisions during the current outbreak, so requirements may vary depending on where a person lives. Individuals with questions about their eligibility should contact their local health department.

RELATED: No, the monkeypox outbreak has not been declared a pandemic

Routine smallpox vaccinations used to be commonplace in the United States, but the practice ended in 1972 after the disease was eradicated in the country, the CDC says. This means smallpox vaccines are no longer available to the general public. According to the WHO, those who have previously been vaccinated against smallpox usually find a scar on their upper arm.

So what does an earlier smallpox vaccination mean during the current monkeypox outbreak?

Although previous vaccination offers protection against monkeypox, it may not be lifelong, according to the CDC. During the 2003 monkeypox outbreak and the current outbreak, some people who received the smallpox vaccine decades ago contracted monkeypox.

Stuart Ray, MD, a professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, agrees.

“What we don’t know is if or when people who have been through decades since [smallpox] Vaccination or have been immunocompromised since that vaccination could become vulnerable,” he said.

RELATED: No, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease

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Alley Einstein

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