US Sen. Padilla pushes for more monkeypox vaccines during SF visit

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday August 25, 2022
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Senator Alex Padilla speaks about efforts to combat the monkeypox outbreak August 25 at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. Photo: Eric Burkett
Senator Alex Padilla speaks about efforts to combat the monkeypox outbreak August 25 at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. Photo: Eric Burkett

While monkeypox cases continue to rise, state and federal officials say they are encouraged by an overall slowdown in numbers both in California and worldwide. Still, according to U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California), the state needs 800,000 vaccinations to stop the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the Transgender District will hold an MPX vaccine clinic in the Tenderloin Friday, August 26.

The senator addressed reporters at a news conference at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center Thursday morning, along with state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan.

Speaking at the entry of the hospital where over the past several weeks thousands of mostly gay, bisexual, and trans men have been lining up in the early morning hours to get the vaccine, Padilla and the others were cautiously optimistic about an overall slowing down in the spread of the virus. Since August 1, when reported infections hit their statewide peak of more than 125 per day, numbers have decreased dramatically since then, falling to only a few reported cases per day since August 20, officials said. However, there was a great deal of criticism at the sluggish federal response to the outbreak, which started back in May.

Even with the slow response, there has been encouraging news, according to state epidemiologist Pan.

"While the overall case count does continue to rise, we are encouraged by the recent slowing of these trends in California, across the country, and the globe," she said. "Thanks to our collective efforts, we have mobilized our state responses over the last three months, leveraging tools, resources, and partnerships, and lessons learned during the [COVID] pandemic."

As of August 24, California has reported 3,065 probable or confirmed cases of MPX, according to the California Department of Public Health. In the nine-county Bay Area, there have been 1,114 confirmed cases, with the vast majority in San Francisco, which had 684 as of that date, according to DPH. Alameda County has had 155 cases, while Santa Clara County comes in third at 134 cases. Solano County has seen the smallest number with only three so far.

CADPH stated there have been 81 hospitalizations in the state, and no reported deaths.

Padilla was full of praise for California's efforts, noting that San Francisco was the first city in the country to declare a health state of emergency for MPX. But that is not enough, he said. (New York state also declared an MPX emergency the same day as San Francisco, July 28.)

"We simply do not have the supply of vaccine to meet the needs of the number of people requesting the vaccines, seeking appointments to protect against a disease that is continuing to spread throughout California," the senator said. "So, while we've seen the great work of folks here in San Francisco, I want to be clear that the federal government needs to do more, must do more, and must do more quickly."

Between 250,000 and 350,000 Californians can be considered high risk, said Padilla, and — just as with COVID — MPX "continues to have a disproportionate effect on communities of color across the country, including right here in California in the Latino community, in the African American community, among others."

African Americans comprise more than 12% of MPX cases in California, yet make up only 6.5% of the state's population. In San Francisco, however, Black people comprise 6% of the population but only 5.4% of MPX cases, according to figures from SFDPH. Latinos make up 28.7% percent of MPX cases in San Francisco, far surpassing their makeup of the city's population, at 15.1%, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. In the state as a whole, the figures for Latinos is a more equitable 40% as Latinos comprise just over 40% of California's population.

Several gay leaders were also on hand at the news conference: San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax; District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman; and Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D., CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Service Employees International Union Local SEIU 1021 representative Kristin Hardy also attended.

Despite the high numbers of people who still need to be vaccinated, San Francisco has managed to inoculate a substantial number, said Colfax.

"Today, I'm really pleased to share that over 21,500 doses of the MPX vaccine have been administered in San Francisco," Colfax said. "And, yet, there is still much more work to be done."

San Francisco has received thousands of doses through the state from the federal stockpile, he continued, but the city still hasn't received all of the initial 35,000 doses it requested at the very beginning of the outbreak.

"If we don't do enough, we face the possibility that this disease could become endemic and continue to harm people for the foreseeable future," Colfax said.

Other speakers decried the slow federal response to the outbreak, including TerMeer, who said that even very early on, officials knew there was an "imminent window of opportunity to prevent the spread of MPX and that window had already begun closing."

Despite a wealth of emerging data from other countries that had begun to see the outbreak a few weeks before it arrived in the United States, as well as public health knowledge and expertise, the U.S. was slow to respond, TerMeer said.

"What we did not have was the swift action and the bold leadership of our federal public health leadership," he continued. "This unacceptable moment in our history was preventable. It took 78 days between the first reported case of MPX in our country, and a decision to declare a public health emergency."

Mandelman, who held a hearing at the Board of Supervisors July 21 about the slow government response to the outbreak, praised Padilla's presence.

"The federal government's response to this public health emergency has been inadequate and generally disappointing," Mandelman stated in a release issued by Padilla's office. "That is why we are so grateful to have an advocate like Senator Padilla in Washington demanding a more robust response. We urge the federal government to expand access to the Mpox vaccine so every Californian who wants a vaccine can get one, and those of us who have gotten our first dose can get a second."

Trans district to hold vaccine clinic

The Transgender District will hold an MPX vaccine clinic for people to get the first dose of the Jynneos shot Friday, August 26, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Pianofight, 144 Taylor Street in San Francisco. An email announcement noted that supply is limited.

The clinic is prioritizing those who meet DPH eligibility criteria. That includes transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people, as well as Black, Indigenous, and people of color; current sex workers; undocumented people; those living with HIV or another chronic illness; those experiencing homelessness; and those who are formerly incarcerated.

The clinic is co-sponsored by the AIDS foundation and Lyon-Martin Community Health.

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