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When I had monkeypox back in August, I had been anxiously waiting for a vaccine for three weeks. In the first few days, I was experiencing flu-like symptoms and initially mistook it for COVID-19. I had an intense fever and would wake up to a bed soaking wet with sweat, as well as pox gradually developing all over my body. After explaining my symptoms to my GP, I was referred for a monkeypox test at a sexual health clinic and was shocked to receive a positive result four days later.

It was an incredibly frustrating situation. I had tried to get a vaccine before I got the virus. As a gay man, I had an awareness of monkeypox and wanted to protect myself against the virus – however I didn’t have the flexibility or time to join the queues of people waiting hours on end for a walk-in appointment. When I was finally allocated my vaccine appointment on 25 August, it was too late.

Living alone and isolating with monkeypox for two weeks was a lonely experience, I was really unwell and had no one to physically look after me. There is still currently no financial support available for those required to isolate as a result of monkeypox. I do not think it is acceptable that the government has not learned the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the cost of living crisis. No one should have to choose between protecting the health of themselves and others or affording essentials like food and rent.

The disorganisation of the UK’s vaccination programme has incited fear and anxiety in gay and bisexual men. Our health has been neglected throughout the outbreak – I’m not a monkeypox victim, but I do feel victimised by the government’s response. There has been a lack of decisive leadership since the UK outbreak began in May 2022. We cannot accept monkeypox as part of the status quo when we have the tools to prevent the virus from becoming endemic.

The recent announcement of Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey’s decision to not order any more vaccines is concerning. It risks harming the health of our population and exacerbating the health inequalities experienced by gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. We should be making the monkeypox vaccine available to those that want it.

Due to the limited supplies, I have personally made the decision to hold off on getting the vaccine on the assumption that my antibodies will offer me some protection – but this is not definite. No one should have to make this decision and sacrifice their health, but the government’s indecisiveness and lack of compassion and focus on monkeypox has left me with no other choice.

The government’s inaction has led to Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity withdrawing its support from the UK Health Security Agency’s approach to monkeypox in England due to the government’s failings. Charities have stepped up to do the heavy lifting in tackling the outbreak, using their own funds and staff resource to protect the health of gay and bisexual men. It should not have to be this way.

Monkeypox has not ‘gone away’ and as someone who has experienced the virus, I urge the government to take the outbreak seriously. Please contact your local MPs, asking them to write to the new Health Secretary and the new Minister for Public Health asking them to tackle Monkeypox. If not you, who? If not now, when?

You can contact your MP about monkeypox here.