Monkeypox vaccines: A virologist answers 6 questions about how they work, who can get them and how well they prevent infection

Monkeypox isn’t going to be the next COVID-19. But with the outbreak having bloomed to thousands of infections, with cases in nearly every state, on Aug. 4, 2022, the U.S. declared monkeypox a national public health emergency. One reason health experts did not expect monkeypox to become so widespread is that the U.S. had previously approved two vaccines for the virus. Maureen Ferran, a virologist at Rochester Institute of Technology, has been keeping tabs on the two vaccines that can protect against monkeypox.

1. What are the available monkeypox vaccines?

Two vaccines are currently approved in the U.S. that can provide protection against monkeypox, the Jynneos vaccine – known as Imvamune/Imvanex in Europe – and ACAM2000, an older smallpox vaccine.

The Jynneos vaccine is produced by Bavarian Nordic, a small company in Denmark. The vaccine is for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox disease in adults ages 18 and older who are at high risk for infection with either virus. It was approved in Europe in 2013 and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019.

The Jynneos vaccine is given in two doses four weeks apart and contains a live vaccinia virus. Vaccinia normally infects cattle and is a type of poxvirus, a family of viruses that includes smallpox and monkeypox. The virus in this vaccine has been crippled – or attenuated – so that it is no longer able to replicate in cells.

This vaccine is good at protecting those who are at high risk for monkeypox from getting infected before exposure and can also lessen the severity of disease post-infection. It is effective against smallpox as well as monkeypox. Until the recent monkeypox outbreak, this vaccine was primarily given to health care workers or people who have had confirmed or suspected monkeypox exposure.

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