Thérèse Coffey has been urged to “reassure the public” about the monkeypox outbreak after it emerged that she rejected advice to buy extra vaccine doses due to value-for-money concerns.

The newly appointed Health Secretary was also asked to clarify whether or not she received any advice suggesting she “ignore” the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), according to a letter seen by GAY TIMES.

Sent on 4 October by Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary and Labour MP for Ilford North, it comes three days after news broke that Coffey opted not to order a recommended 70,000 extra doses of the vaccine that protects against monkeypox.

The decision was reported to have left UKHSA officials “in shock”, the Financial Times reported.

“Reports suggest you rejected the scientific advice from UKHSA due to concerns over value for money,” part of the letter reads. “This should be a factor in all government decision-making and its lack of consideration in recent years has led to billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being wasted, for example on the purchase of unusable PPE which is now being burned. What estimate have you made of the ongoing cost to DHSC and the NHS if monkeypox were to become endemic in the UK?”

The monkeypox outbreak has been declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization, the same status given to COVID-19 shortly after it began spreading.

Although anyone can contract the infection, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men have so far been disproprtionately affected by the outbreak.

Streeting’s letter asks Coffey to share the “latest estimate of the number of people at risk of monkeypox and therefore eligible for vaccination”, as well as an update on how many people have been vaccinated, how many doses have been purchased and what quantity are in the country and ready to be used.

As of 3 October, there were 3,504 confirmed and 150 highly probable cases of monkeypox in the UK, according to data from the UKHSA.

Despite these being in decline in recent weeks, sexual health services continue to report that they are being placed under vast pressure because of monkeypox testing and vaccination – resulting in limited capacity for things such as HIV and STI testing.

“Choices made by Conservative Governments over the past 12 years, including to reduce funding to sexual health clinics by 14% since 2015/16, left them unable to cope with the additional demands and as a result unable to fulfil core duties like PrEP provision,” Streeting writes in his letter to Coffey, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister.

“The British Association for Sexual Health & HIV say access to PrEP has fallen by 90% in recent weeks. What steps are you taking to prevent an increase in people contracting HIV as a result of this lack of capacity?”

A government spokesperson told GAY TIMES: “UK has enough doses of the monkeypox vaccine to offer everybody at highest risk two doses.

“We acted immediately to tackle the spread of Monkeypox, moving early to secure 150,000 vaccines amid global shortages and rapidly deploying jabs to those most at risk.

“While cases are falling in the UK, we are not complacent and we continue to encourage people to remain vigilant and take up the offer of a vaccine if offered. We continue to monitor the situation and decisions about future supply will be made and communicated in the usual way.”

Coffey’s appointment to government has sparked concern from many LGBTQ+ people and organisations given that she voted against same-sex marriage in 2013 and against extending marriage equality to Northern Ireland in 2019.

In 2010, she introduced a Parliamentary motion which called on those seeking an abortion to undergo “mental health assessments” before voting against extending abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland eight years later.

You can find resources to learn more about monkeypox by clicking here.

GAY TIMES has contacted both Coffey and the Department for Health and Scoial Care for comment on the letter, which you can read in full below: