Campaigners have called for the planned Health Service Executive monkeypox vaccination programme to begin as a matter of urgency.

HIV Ireland Executive Director Stephen O'Hare said that the planned roll-out had not started yet and the Government is currently putting a vaccination plan in place.

It comes as the number of confirmed cases of monkeypox in Ireland has increased to 97, according to the latest official figures.

Mr O'Hare said that last week, HIV Ireland was briefed by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Department of Health officials on the issue.

He said that a commitment has been made to roll-out a vaccination programme as soon as possible.

Mr O'Hare said HIV Ireland would like to see it begin urgently and without delay and be offered to those at highest risk and most vulnerability.

The HSE said that since the multi-country monkeypox outbreak began, the HSE has received limited supplies of smallpox vaccine and has been using this to respond to cases of monkeypox.

It said that the vaccine is being offered to close contacts after a risk assessment and also to some healthcare workers who may be at risk of exposure through their work.

At this time, supplies of vaccine in Ireland and in the EU are low and limited, it added.

WHO spokesperson Dr Margaret Harris said vaccination against monkeypox is recommended for people that are at high risk and also for healthcare workers.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher Hayes, she said that while up to this point the virus has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, it is a virus that anyone can get.

Dr Harris said: "It's transmitted by close contact. It is sexually transmissible, but that's not the main way in which it is potentially transmitted. In countries where it has been seen for many, many years often the spread was within households.

"Within Africa it's a more generalised spread, but at the moment the vast majority of people that are reporting and being tested are people who identify as men who have sex with men."

Dr Harris said a sexual abstinence policy will only work if it comes from communities primarily affected by the virus.

"It's certainly one that's not a popular message but in this context for someone who thinks they're at risk, reducing partners will make a huge difference.

"That was one of the recommendations that the (WHO) Director General made as advised by the emergency committee that it (the message) must come from the affected communities. When it comes from external global bodies it doesn't mean much," she said.

Public health emergency

Worldwide there are now 26,208 confirmed cases in 87 countries. Most of the cases are in countries that have not historically reported monkeypox.

The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.

It urged countries to strengthen their public health and clinical responses.

Last month, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee recommended that preventative vaccination be offered to those at high risk of infection, including gay, bisexual, men who have sex with men and others at high risk of unprotected exposure.

It said two doses of smallpox vaccine should be administered 28 days apart to as many high-risk individuals as soon as practicable.

The HSE said it was now working to implement the NIAC advice on vaccination, in consultation with stakeholders, and is putting plans in place to identify those most at risk and the best way to use the supply of vaccines.

Social Democrats Health spokesperson Róisín Shortall said there was a complete absence of information and a lack of urgency over the vaccination programme.

She called on the Minister for Health to clarify when it would be rolled out.

Meanwhile, the United States has declared monkeypox a public health emergency, a move that should free up new funds, assist in data gathering and allow the deployment of additional personnel in the fight against the disease.

With additional reporting from AFP