Santa Clara County expands monkeypox vaccine eligibility

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022
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Dr. George Han, deputy health officer for infectious diseases for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, hopes more monkeypox vaccines will soon be available. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Dr. George Han, deputy health officer for infectious diseases for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, hopes more monkeypox vaccines will soon be available. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

As monkeypox cases in Santa Clara County tick up, public health officials have expanded vaccine eligibility though doses remain in short supply. Meanwhile, East Bay LGBTQ leaders are calling on more help from state and federal governments.

Santa Clara County reported 23 cases of monkeypox as of July 19. That's up from 11 on July 14, according to the county's website.

Dr. George Han, deputy health officer for infectious diseases for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, told the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday that officials are expanding vaccine eligibility in an effort to reach people who may be at high risk, including gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men.

"Initially, what we did was reach people who had direct physical contact with people who have monkeypox," Han said during a phone interview. "We're expanding to people who may not be in direct contact but may be at high risk."

To that end, the county will have a vaccine clinic Wednesday, July 20, but will likely only be able to administer 100 to 200 doses, Han said. To date, Santa Clara County has only received 742 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, though Han said another 800 doses are expected to arrive Tuesday. The county has also delivered some doses to major health centers, he said.

To register for the vaccine clinic, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in South San Jose, click here. There will be no walk-ins and people must have an appointment.

The county health department is also partnering with the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center to hold a monkeypox town hall Thursday, July 21, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in-person at the center, 938 The Alameda, in San Jose. People should bring proof of COVID vaccination and wear masks.

Han, a gay man, said he's very concerned about the current monkeypox outbreak. "As a member of the gay community myself, it's important to me, as well as being a member of the public health department," he said.

Anyone can get monkeypox, which is not a new disease. The monkeypox virus spreads through close personal contact, including skin-to-skin contact, kissing, and respiratory droplets at close range, but it is not transmitted through the air over longer distances like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It is not yet known whether monkeypox is transmitted in semen, but it does spread through contact with sores during sex.

Related to smallpox but less severe, monkeypox causes flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash. The sores, which may resemble common sexually transmitted infections such as herpes or syphilis, can appear anywhere on the body, including the throat, genitals, and anal area. Most people recover without treatment, but the sores can cause scarring and some patients have reported severe pain.

Han said that among the Santa Clara County cases that the health department has data for, most are men who have sex with men, which mirrors the situation in San Francisco, New York City, and other areas.

As for the expanded vaccine eligibility, county officials said people can get a vaccine if they've had direct physical contact with someone confirmed to have monkeypox, or if they've attended an event or venue where a person contagious with monkeypox was at the event or venue and had direct physical contact with other people there.

Those who identify as a gay, bisexual, or other cisgender man who has sex with men, or as a transgender man or woman are also eligible if they meet at least one of the following risk criteria: have recent history of multiple or anonymous sex partners; participate in group sex; attend sex-on-premises venues (i.e., bathhouse) or events; work or volunteer at a bathhouse or sex club; have had a bacterial sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis in the prior year; or perform sex work.

Han said that like other medical officials, he has seen differences in this current monkeypox outbreak. At last week's virtual forum held by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, medical director Dr. Hyman Scott said, "This is not a new virus, but it's behaving in [new] ways that we're identifying in this outbreak."

Han said that they are seeing monkeypox spread primarily through sexual contact among men who have sex with men.

"It's true that monkeypox is manifesting itself now different from the textbooks," he said, adding that for example, people might not see a rash all over their bodies.

East Bay leaders call for more vaccines

Meanwhile, LGBTQ leaders in the East Bay have stepped up their calls for more monkeypox vaccine doses. In a letter from Oakland At-Large City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, a lesbian who also serves as vice mayor, she and other leaders called on public health officers to make the vaccine more widely and readily available, including for the LGBTQ community.

"I urge our federal, state, and county health officials to expand public education about the growing threat this virus presents and provide vaccinations to communities that are being impacted, including our LGBTQ+ communities," Kaplan wrote.

Kaplan, who's running for Alameda County supervisor in November, also stated that leaders "must avoid scapegoating people and take stronger action to expand production and dissemination of vaccines to prevent further harm, including seeking to make them more available throughout our communities, and to eliminate barriers to vaccine access."

The letter also calls on federal and state governments to add resources for vaccine dissemination and public education to protect the health of our communities. It echoes calls made by San Francisco LGBTQ advocates over the past week, including at a rally Monday, July 18, outside the local offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as the B.A.R. first reported online.

In addition to Kaplan, other East Bay signatories to the letter are Emeryville Mayor John Bauters and San Leandro City Councilmember Victor Aguilar, both gay men; gay Oakland Port Commissioner Michael Colbruno; gay Oakland LGBTQ Community Center CEO Joe Hawkins; Christie James, a pan and bi woman who's co-chair of Pridefest Oakland; Sean Sullivan, a gay man who's co-chair of Pridefest Oakland; Richard Fuentes, a gay man who's Sullivan's partner and co-owner with him of the Port Bar; and Michael Lighty, a gay man who's a former Oakland Port commissioner and now with the progressive Sanders Institute.

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