Will Colleges Require Monkeypox Vaccines?

Probably not — at least not anytime soon. With vaccines in short supply, colleges are following CDC guidance and focusing on educating students about monkeypox.
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Updated on September 29, 2023
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  • There are two vaccines for monkeypox — Jynneos and ACAM2000.
  • At this time, the CDC is not pushing for mass monkeypox vaccination for the general public, including college students.
  • Vaccines are in limited supply, and most college health systems are not being provided doses.
  • Students should assess their risk factors according to state health agency criteria. Vaccines may be available for anyone at high risk.

As monkeypox cases increase across the country, colleges are mobilizing to inform students — and their larger communities — about monkeypox, its symptoms, and how to prevent the spread of the disease.

They are not, however, issuing vaccine mandates as they follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for stopping the spread of the virus that causes monkeypox.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week declared monkeypox a public health emergency. As of Wednesday, the monkeypox outbreak has grown to 10,392 U.S. cases, according to the CDC.

The largest outbreaks are in California (1,892 cases), Florida (1,018 cases), Georgia (775 cases), Illinois (717 cases), New York (2,132 cases), and Texas (780 cases). California, Illinois, and New York each declared their own states of emergency over the outbreaks.

However, because the virus that causes monkeypox spreads differently than the virus that causes COVID-19 and because supply of the monkeypox vaccine is in limited supply, the CDC is not pushing for mass vaccination for the general public.

The monkeypox virus is a completely different virus than the viruses that cause COVID-19 or measles, according to the CDC. It is not known to linger in the air and is not transmitted during short periods of shared airspace.

It spreads through direct contact with body fluids or sores on the body of someone who has monkeypox or by direct contact with materials, such as clothing or linens, that have touched body fluids or sores of someone with monkeypox. It may also spread through respiratory secretions when people have close, face-to-face contact.

Who Can Get a Monkeypox Vaccine and What Is the Distribution Strategy?

The CDC recommends monkeypox vaccination for those who have been exposed to the disease or who are at a higher risk of being exposed.

Although monkeypox can infect anyone, a large number of recent cases this year have been concentrated in those who self-identify as men who have sex with men, according to the California Department of Health.

Effective monkeypox vaccine pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) strategies "should … include strategies such as community outreach, education efforts, and communication about behavioral strategies to minimize risk," according to the CDC. "PrEP strategies are likely to be most effective when designed and implemented in partnership with communities and groups that are disproportionately affected. For example, successful HIV PrEP campaigns were built on a high level of community engagement and have built a high amount of trust."

“A short supply of the vaccine has forced federal and state officials to keep tight control over vaccine distribution and administration.”

While college health centers will play a role in developing those vaccination strategies, a short supply of the vaccine has forced federal and state officials to keep tight control over vaccine distribution and administration.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization that allows the Jynneos vaccine to be administered between layers of skin rather than into the fat as is currently done. Known as intradermal injection, vaccination in this fashion uses only one-fifth of the full dose required in a normal injection.

"In recent weeks the monkeypox virus has continued to spread at a rate that has made it clear our current vaccine supply will not meet the current demand," FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., said in a statement "This will increase the total number of doses available for use by up to five-fold."

Colleges' Role in Vaccine Distribution Varies Widely

Vaccine administration in the two states with the largest number of monkeypox cases — New York and California — show how chaotic distribution might be for colleges for the first part of the fall semester.

In New York, which declared a state disaster emergency on July 29 in response to the monkeypox outbreak, vaccine doses are exclusively available through the New York State Department of Health.

Two of New York City's largest universities had similar messages for students.

"(New York University) does not have access to the monkeypox vaccine at this time, although we have been in touch with health authorities about getting access to the vaccine," the school told students on its monkeypox information webpage.

"Columbia University does not have access to the monkeypox vaccination at this time," the school told students on its monkeypox information and resources webpage. "We encourage eligible individuals to use the New York City resources when seeking vaccination."

In California, which declared a state of emergency over monkeypox on Aug. 1, some colleges are administering monkeypox vaccines to eligible students, and others are sending students to local public health agencies.

In the Bay Area, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is administering vaccines to eligible students through its UCSF Health system. Stanford University, on the other hand, does not have vaccines to distribute and is advising eligible students that once vaccines are more broadly available, scheduling will be available through Stanford.

College students in Los Angeles County who qualify for monkeypox vaccines must sign up through the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH). As of Thursday morning, LACDPH's pre-registration link for the monkeypox vaccine was at capacity and paused.

"(University of California, Los Angeles) is working with LACDPH to vaccinate individuals in high-risk populations against monkeypox based on criteria established by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, including a history of close contact with someone with monkeypox," school officials told students in an Aug. 8 email.

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is likewise directing students who are eligible to receive monkeypox vaccines to schedule an appointment with the Orange County Health Care Agency.

David Souleles, director of UCI's COVID-19 Response Team, told BestColleges that his institution is focused on educating students about monkeypox.

"We sent out an all-campus message last week on basic information around monkeypox, prevention, and vaccine availability, or lack thereof," Souleles told BestColleges.

Souleles added that the COVID-19 pandemic helped the university better prepare for outbreaks of other diseases like monkeypox.

"We have built up infrastructure on campus for communication and for managing cases," Souleles said. "We've built strong relationships with our local public health department, which I think are key whenever there's any kind of communicable disease situation at a campus, whether it's monkeypox, COVID-19, measles, tuberculosis, or any of the other things that can happen in daily life."

Additional reporting by Bennett Leckrone