Illustration of the monkeypox virus
Illustration: PGN

Love what you see? Follow PGN so you never miss a story.

What you need to know

  • The U.S. has recorded more than 10,000 monkeypox cases.
  • There is a limited supply of monkeypox vaccines.
  • If you are eligible for a monkeypox vaccine, contact your health care provider or local health department.
  • Health care providers now have the option to stretch out the vaccine supply by changing the dosage and administration method. Under the new approach, individuals can receive a dose one-fifth the full size, spread over two shots, administered via an injection between skin layers. 

The U.S. has recorded more than 10,000 monkeypox cases and declared the outbreak a public health emergency with infections in all 50 states but Wyoming. As cases rise, here’s what you need to know about how the virus spreads, whether you need a vaccine, and, if so, where to find one.

How does monkeypox spread?

Misinformation is circulating online about how monkeypox spreads and who is most at risk. Monkeypox is transmitted through direct, skin-to-skin contact, particularly sexual or intimate contact, with a person who has the virus. The virus can make its way inside the body through cut skin or the eyes, nose, or mouth. While less common, monkeypox can also spread through infected clothing, surfaces, and objects. There is no evidence to suggest that monkeypox spreads through airborne transmission, but the possibility has not been ruled out. 

Thus far, monkeypox has mostly affected men who have sex with men and their sexual partners, leading public health officials to emphasize the risk to and need for vaccination among this group. But anyone can contract monkeypox, even if some populations are at higher risk than others. 

Who is eligible for a monkeypox vaccine?

As public health officials and medical professionals work to contain the monkeypox outbreak, experts are discussing the name of the virus, which some say reinforces stereotypes and stigma. To combat this, some recommend referring to the virus as mpox or mpx. While these names are in flux, PGN will use the most common term, monkeypox, so that people can find the most up-to-date information.  

Initially, vaccines were only provided to those who have had a “confirmed monkeypox exposure.” Now, the CDC recommends vaccination for people who have not only been exposed to monkeypox but also for people who may be more likely to get it, including: 

  • People who have been identified by public health officials as a contact of someone with monkeypox.
  • People who know one of their sexual partners in the past two weeks has been diagnosed with monkeypox.
  • People who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known monkeypox, although the available data makes it difficult to identify specific areas of high transmission.

If I am eligible, where can I get a vaccine?

More than 1 million vaccines have been allocated from the national stockpile, but more are needed. And unlike with COVID-19 vaccines, there is no central online location where people can search for monkeypox vaccines nearby. At the moment, the CDC advises that if you believe you are eligible for a monkeypox vaccine, you should contact your health care provider or local health department to get tested and to find out where you can obtain a vaccine. Cities and states, including New York, San Diego, Chicago, and Miami, have begun to gather information and resources for their websites on monkeypox, so it’s a good idea to do a search for local resources. 

The Biden administration is currently working with several companies to prepare millions of new monkeypox vaccines; however, health officials say those vaccines may not be ready until 2023. To address the vaccine shortage immediately, the U.S. is planning to stretch out its limited supply with a different method of injection. The new method administers one-fifth the full dose, spread over two shots, via an injection between skin layers. The same approach has been used for other vaccines. The plan was authorized by the FDA on Tuesday.