Israel Expands Monkeypox Vaccine Eligibility, but Still Faces Limited Supply

Eligibility criteria for the vaccine was initially extremely stringent and limited to those considered at highest-risk

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A pharmacist holds a bottle of the Monkeypox vaccine at a Pop-Up Monkeypox vaccination site last week in California.
A pharmacist holds a bottle of the Monkeypox vaccine at a Pop-Up Monkeypox vaccination site last week in California.Credit: Richard Vogel /AP
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's Health Ministry announced on Thursday that it will expand the criteria of eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine, which has so far been administered to 1,500 Israeli men since the vaccination drive began about a week and a half ago.

In the coming days, the vaccine will be available to those who meet the following criteria: Men receiving preventative treatment (PrEP) against HIV, men who are HIV positive, and men diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases – active herpes, chlamydia or gonorrhea – since the start of 2021.

So far, 176 men in Israel have been diagnosed with monkeypox. Since its inception, the vaccination drive focused on a select group with a particularly high risk of infection, and accordingly, eligibility to receive the vaccine was conditioned on two criteria: PrEP users who have also recently contracted an STD.

The reason for such narrow eligibility criteria early in the drive stemmed mostly from the limited supply of vaccines. Two weeks ago, some 5,600 doses of the 10,000 purchased by Israel arrived in the country. Demand was high in the gay community, but the criteria prevented most from being vaccinated.

"Many complain they want to be vaccinated, but they don't meet the Health Ministry's criteria, and thus cannot," Dr. Gal Wagner Kolasko, director of the Gan Meir Clalit clinic and chairman of LGBTQ Medical Society told Haaretz when the drive began. Now that priority has been given to the highest-risk group, it was decided to expand the criteria – with about 4,000 doses remaining in the stock.

The rest of the 10,000 doses Israel purchased are expected to arrive in early September, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, adding that it is looking to purchase additional vaccines to ensure availability to all those at-risk. Pursuant to FDA approval, the ministry is also exploring changing the current vaccine directives to allow for increased utilization of each dose.

The monkeypox virus is a human and animal pathogen that exists mainly in the rainforests of central and western Africa. The mortality rate is up to 10 percent. The virus was first discovered in monkeys in 1958 and in humans in 1970. Between 1970-1986, over 400 human cases were reported. Contagion occurs through contact with animals or their effluvia, or contrarily from human to human through contact with the carrier’s breath or effluvia. The symptoms include a rash, swelling of the lymph glands, muscle pain, headaches, and fever.

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