Gay men line up as early as 2 am for monkeypox vaccinations. Many leave empty handed

They wear face masks and maintain a social distance from others, obeying basic rules from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the desperate need for vaccines far outstripped what the federal and state governments could provide.

Yet many will walk away empty-handed as local hospitals and clinics have had to rely on an inconsistent and insufficient supply of vaccines, a dilemma that has angered patients and advocates.

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San Francisco General opens the clinic doors at 8 am and the line moves slowly. The hospital will dispense available doses until the supply is exhausted.

For Cody Aarons, 31, it was his third attempt. He calmly stood with over 100 people already in front of him.

“I’ve been in New York for the last month for work, tried their online portal system and couldn’t get a vaccine,” said the health care worker who thought he might have a better chance in San Francisco.

But 45 minutes into the day’s distribution, a hospital staff member came by with an announcement. “Friends, we have reached our limit for today,” he yelled. “However, we will try to find you more shots.”

Though with no guarantee of receiving the monkeypox vaccine that day, Aarons, and nearly everyone else in line, stood still.

“People want their vaccine,” said Rafael Mandelman, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “I know one person who was in that line four different days before he finally got vaccinated.”

Mandelman, who got up at 4:30 a.m. and waited hours before getting his shot days before, is frustrated with the implementation.

a sign says

“After having gone through a pandemic where we were able to discover a new vaccine, [and] distribute tens of millions of doses in a matter of months, the fact that with a known existing vaccine we can’t get more than these measly little trickles is very frustrating for people,” he said.

In California, the vast majority of those infected, more than 98%, are male, and more than 91% of patients identify as LGBTQ. Mandelman feels that he and other members of the gay community have been forced to advocate on their own, without the support of the federal government.

desperate and fearful

For healthcare workers, the outbreak is a frustrating new chapter after the punishing Covid-19 pandemic.

“At the peak of covid vaccines, we were averaging 1,400 to 1,500 (doses) per day. So, we are completely used to the mass vaccination process,” said Merjo Roca, nursing manager.

But Roca and his staff are limited in what they can do given the shortage of vaccines.

San Francisco health officials initially requested 35,000 doses but say they only got 12,000 from the federal reserve. The state of California has informed city leaders that San Francisco will receive 10,700 more in the next allocation, but there is no clear indication of when those doses will arrive or how many will arrive at San Francisco General Hospital for distribution.

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“I think one of our biggest challenges is really supply inconsistency,” Roca said. “Our vaccine clinic prides itself on being able to help and vaccinate people as they walk through our doors. So it’s very difficult for all of our staff not to be able to do that and have to turn people away and not even have information to say When will we get the next doses?

With many in line fearful of the rapidly increasing number of monkeypox cases, clinic staff feel an added burden of not being able to serve everyone.

“It’s very difficult to listen to someone explaining why they want the vaccine and why they need the vaccine and we just don’t have it,” Roca added.

Kevin Kwong shows off his monkeypox lesions.  He recently recovered from monkeypox after being diagnosed in early July.

“It was as if someone had hit me with a perforator all over my body”

The government argues that it acted with urgency and with the data. And there are clear differences between the response now and the response to HIV/AIDS. But some advocates say the perceived lack of governmental urgency to address a public health crisis affecting queer communities today mirrors what gay men were experiencing decades ago.

Between October 1980 and May 1981, five young men from across Los Angeles, described by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time as “active homosexuals,” were diagnosed with an unusual lung infection and two of them died.
It was the first time acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, the devastating advanced stage of HIV infection that would claim the lives of more than 40 million people worldwide, was first reported in the US.

Exchanges between then-President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary and reporters in 1982 and 1983 indicate that the nation’s top officials and society at large viewed the disease as a joke rather than a matter of great concern.

That was due to the perception of AIDS as a “gay plague,” a condition believed to be linked to the lifestyles and behaviors of gay men, although cases have also been reported in women, infants, people with hemophilia, and people who inject drugs

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Now, more than 40 years later, the gay community is once again dealing with feelings of ostracism and neglect from their own government.

“We have a responsibility not to further stigmatize or politicize this issue for a community that has long faced many issues and has long been marginalized in our community,” said Tyler TerMeer, executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. . “Going back to the early days of the HIV epidemic in our country, we saw our community abandoned by the federal government in its response,” he said.

The foundation opened its doors in 1982 “at a time of crisis in our community, when the federal government abandoned us…there are parallels between then and now,” according to TerMeer.

“President Biden has asked us to explore every option on the table to combat the monkeypox outbreak and protect at-risk communities,” said White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton. . “We are applying the lessons learned from the battles we have fought, from the COVID response to wildfires and measles, and we will approach this outbreak with the urgency that this moment demands.”

Monkeypox is a poxvirus, related to smallpox and cowpox, and typically causes pimple-like or blister-like lesions and flu-like symptoms, such as fever, according to the CDC.

The lesions are usually concentrated on the arms and legs, but in the latest outbreak, they appear more frequently in the genital and perianal areas, which has raised some concerns that monkeypox lesions may be confused with STDs.

“I had 600 to 800 injuries all over my body… It was like someone pierced my whole body with a hole punch. There were spots where I couldn’t walk, couldn’t touch things,” said Kevin Kwong, who recently recovered. of monkeypox after being diagnosed in early July.

He chronicled his ordeal on social media to raise awareness of the outbreak and now wants to “focus on destigmatizing the gay community.”

People line up to get vaccinated against the monkeypox virus last month at Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
The first case of monkeypox in the US was announced on May 18 in a patient hospitalized in Massachusetts who had traveled to Canada by private transportation.
Less than three months later, there are more than 7,000 confirmed cases of the outbreak nationwide, identified in all but two states: Montana and Wyoming, according to the CDC.
Since early June, the CDC says it has been providing extensive education and outreach to the LGBTQ community, including working with local Pride organizations, posting educational videos, and creating campaigns on social media sites and dating apps. popular in the gay community.
'We Need Vaccines, And We Need Them Yesterday': Frustration Mounts In LGBTQ Community Over Government Response To Monkeypox

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 25,054 laboratory-confirmed cases as of August 3 and 122 probable cases.

“At the moment, this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple partners,” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in late July when the WHO declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. .

But while the outbreak has disproportionately affected some gay communities, there is growing concern about the spread of the infection.

The CDC in late July reported the first two cases of monkeypox in children. Two other pediatric cases were confirmed in Indiana and another in Long Beach, California, earlier this week.

“This is a reminder that everyone, regardless of age or sexual orientation, can get monkeypox if they come into contact with the virus,” the city of Long Beach warned, echoing CDC guidance that if Although the risk of infection in children is low, they are “more likely to be exposed to monkeypox if they live in or have recently traveled to a community with higher rates of infection.”

There are more than 500 cases of the outbreak identified in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York and Texas, the latest CDC figures show. New York has the distinction of having the most cases, 1,748, followed by California with 826 confirmed cases.

“We need everyone to get behind this issue and quickly,” TerMeer said. “There is a looming window of time where we can get ahead of the rapid spread of monkeypox in our country and that window continues to close.”

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur, Augie Martin, Jen Christiansen, Carma Hassan and Carolyn Sung contributed to this story.

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