Vaccination to help protect against monkeypox

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection that usually causes a high temperature (fever) and a body rash that lasts a few weeks. It mainly occurs in central and west Africa, but, since May 2022, some cases have been reported in UK, Europe and other international countries.

The risk of catching monkeypox in Scotland is low.

The vaccine

As monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to the one that causes smallpox, vaccines designed for smallpox are considered effective in preventing or reducing the severity of monkeypox.

The vaccine used in the UK is IMVANEX. It's not specifically licensed for the prevention of monkeypox in Europe but it's been used before in the UK against monkeypox.

Read the IMVANEX patient information leaflet

The vaccine helps your body's immune system produce its own protection (antibodies) against the smallpox virus.

IMVANEX does not contain the smallpox virus. It cannot spread or cause smallpox.

Who is offered the vaccine?

The vaccine is recommended only for groups who are at higher risk of developing monkeypox.

Post-exposure

If you've had significant contact with someone with confirmed monkeypox, you may be offered the vaccine.

The vaccine is most effective when given within 4 days from the date of exposure to prevent disease. However, it can be given up to 14 days after exposure if you're at high risk of ongoing exposure or at risk of more severe disease. This may reduce your symptoms but may not prevent disease.

You'll be offered 1 dose of the vaccine. You'll be advised if you need any further doses.

Pre-exposure

The vaccine may also be recommended for some people before they come into contact with monkeypox. This includes some healthcare workers in high-risk settings. For example, if you're likely to care for a patient with monkeypox.

A single dose of the vaccine should be offered as soon as possible to provide some benefit straight away and some longer-term protection. You may be offered a second dose at least 28 days after the first if you'll continue to come into contact with monkeypox at work.

How is the vaccine given?

You'll usually be given the vaccine as an injection in the upper arm.

Are there any reasons I cannot have the vaccine?

You should not have the vaccine if you've previously had a sudden life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to either:

  • a previous dose of the IMVANEX vaccine
  • any ingredient of the vaccine, including those present in very small amounts such as chicken protein, benzonase, gentamicin or ciprofloxacin

It's also important to tell the person giving you the vaccine if you:

  • have a high temperature
  • have atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema)
  • have HIV infection or any other condition or treatment leading to a weakened immune system
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding

You can also let them know if you have a minor infection such as a cold, if you're taking or have recently taken any other medicines, or if you've recently received any other vaccine.

You can be given this vaccine even if you've received a smallpox vaccination in the past.

Is the vaccine safe?

The IMVANEX vaccine was approved for use in the European Union (EU) in 2013 for immunisation against smallpox in adults. It currently does not have approval for immunisation against monkeypox in the EU. However, the same vaccine is marketed in the USA as JYNNEOS and has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for prevention of both smallpox and monkeypox.

The IMVANEX vaccine meets the required standards of safety and effectiveness. Once a vaccine is in use, its safety continues to be monitored.

Are there any side effects?

Like all medicines, the vaccine can cause side effects, but not everybody gets them. The common side effects are:

  • a headache
  • aching muscles
  • nausea
  • tiredness
  • chills
  • fever
  • joint pain, pain in the extremities (hands and feet)
  • loss of appetite
  • pain, redness, swelling, hardness, itching, discolouration, a lump or bruising at the injection site

The most common side effects reported are at the site of injection. Most are mild to moderate in nature and cleared without any treatment within 7 days.

If you have atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema), you may experience more intense skin reactions such as redness, swelling and itching and other general symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, feeling sick or tired. Your skin condition may flare-up or worsen.

This information is only a guide. If you're concerned about any side effects, speak to your health professional or phone NHS 24 on 111 for free.

Immediate action required: Phone 999 immediately if:

You've had the vaccine and:

  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you feel dizzy
  • your face and neck are swelling

These symptoms may be a sign of a serious allergic reaction.

Last updated:
06 June 2022

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