8 monkeypox vaccine questions – and where to get it

Image of a man after a vaccination

As of September 15, there have been 24 cases of monkeypox in Douglas County.

Nikki Regan, MSN, APRN, NP-C Infectious Diseases Nurse, leads monkeypox vaccine education and public relations at Nebraska Medicine Clinics.

Get answers to the most common questions about monkeypox vaccine. You can also protect yourself from monkeypox in other ways.

1. Are monkeypox and smallpox vaccines the same?

Yes. The JYNNEOS vaccine is approved for the prevention of monkeypox and smallpox. “Smallpox and monkeypox belong to the same family of viruses,” explains Regan. This vaccine has shown efficacy in previous outbreaks of smallpox and monkeypox.

2. Are monkeypox vaccines now available?

“We just don’t have enough to vaccinate the entire population,” says Regan. “There’s a lot of demand for it, so we’re reserving vaccines for people at highest risk.”

Monkeypox vaccines are available to prevent monkeypox both before and immediately after exposure:

post exposure: You can get the vaccine up to 14 days after close contact with someone with monkeypox. Get the vaccine as soon as possible after exposure for the best chance of preventing monkeypox or getting a less serious illness. “Vaccinating within a few days of exposure reduces the risk of contracting monkeypox,” says Regan.

Pre-exposure: Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP vaccinations are currently the majority of vaccinations. “Every health department has its own prioritization criteria. Here in the Omaha region, we prioritize people at high risk of exposure to monkeypox, including men or transgender people, who have sex with men, particularly if they have multiple partners or have had recent sexually transmitted infections,” says Regan. “Check with your local health district to see how it’s distributed in your area.”

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How to get the monkeypox vaccine: Take the Douglas County Health Department survey. If you are eligible, they will contact you about where to get your vaccine. If you live outside of Douglas County, contact your provider or local health department.

3. How does the monkeypox vaccine work?

The JYNNEOS vaccine consists of a series of two doses given 28 days apart.

“The vaccine contains a weakened virus so it can’t replicate in your body,” says Regan. “The weakened virus cannot make the person sick, nor can it spread to other people. The weakened virus is there for the immune system to see and build some protection against. Then, when the person is later exposed to the real monkeypox virus, the immune system remembers it and prevents the infection.”

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4. Can the monkeypox vaccine cause a rash or leave a scar?

That red, raised bump on your arm after vaccination is completely normal. It is not permanent and should go away after a few weeks.

The shallow injection of the vaccine causes a wheal that looks like a small blister and gradually fades away. Providers administer the monkeypox vaccine intradermally (between the skin) rather than subcutaneously (into the fatty tissue) to increase coverage. Intradermal injection has quintupled vaccine supply.

“We place a small amount of the vaccine just under the top layer of skin, which causes a wheal — sort of like a little blister,” says Regan. “It can be irritating and itchy and sometimes cause bruising, but this is minor and temporary.” Other common side effects of the vaccine include fatigue and headaches.

The monkeypox vaccine causes a red, raised bump called a wheal.  A wheal shouldn't leave a scar, but it can feel itchy.
The monkeypox vaccine causes a red, raised bump called a wheal. A wheal shouldn’t leave a scar, but it can feel itchy.

5. Can monkeypox vaccine be given with other vaccines?

In most cases, you can receive a JYNNEOS vaccine at the same time as other vaccines, with the exception of the COVID-19 vaccine. If you receive the JYNNEOS vaccine, wait four weeks before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

6. Is the monkeypox vaccine free?

Yes, JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine is free. The federal government is currently distributing the vaccine.

7. Can monkeypox vaccine help after exposure?

Yes, the vaccine can prevent monkeypox or reduce the severity of your illness if you get vaccinated shortly after a known exposure. Ideally, you should get vaccinated as soon as possible – ideally within four days, but it can be given up to 14 days after exposure.

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You can also get the vaccine before exposure as a preventative measure if you qualify.

8. Which monkeypox vaccine is safe for people with eczema?

JYNNEOS is safe for people with eczema. ACAM2000, a vaccine that is approved for smallpox and available for the prevention of monkeypox under an Expanded Access Investigational New Drug Protocol, is a live virus vaccine that is unsafe for people with eczema and some other conditions.

“JYNNEOS is the primary vaccine administered against the current monkeypox outbreak in the United States,” says Regan. “ACAM2000 is an alternative vaccine that contains a live replicating virus called vaccinia. It can spread to other parts of the body and other people, so you need to be extra careful when caring for the vaccine injection site.”

The ACAM2000 vaccine is Not safe for people with these conditions:

  • Eczema, psoriasis or other dermatological problems
  • Pregnant or lactating
  • Decreased immune function from any cause, including HIV