Facing a growing outbreak of the smallpox virus, New York City health officials expanded access to a monkeypox vaccine on Thursday, offering it to a new group of people who may be at greater risk: men who have had multiple or anonymous male sexual partners over the past two weeks.
New York City is the first US jurisdiction to expand access to the vaccine beyond close contacts of infected people, following similar measures in the UK and Canada.
Public health officials around the world are struggling to come up with an effective response to the outbreak, which has spread to dozens of countries since mid-May, mostly among networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
New York City reported 30 cases of the monkeypox virus on Thursday. Nationally, 173 cases have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, there have been more than 3,300 cases of the disease reported in 42 countries outside the African regions where it is endemic, in the largest global outbreak of the disease.
No deaths have yet been reported in the outbreak outside Africa, but 72 deaths have been reported since the beginning of the year in the endemic regions of Africa.
The opening of the first clinic to offer the vaccine in New York on Thursday was not publicly announced in advance. Instead, after a press release went out at 11:30 am on Thursday, word spread on social media and word of mouth about the vaccine’s sudden availability.
By early afternoon, a line of more than 100 men had formed outside the city-run Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic, which is the only place in town that offers the vaccines.
At around 1:30 pm, clinic staff began turning away new people, asking them to book appointments online for the next week.
There is a limited supply of the preferred vaccine to combat monkeypox, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is made in Denmark and is known as Jynneos in the United States. While the federal government has about 1.4 million doses, Mark Levine, Manhattan borough president, said there were only about 1,000 doses of vaccine available to city residents.
“The demand we’re seeing today is further proof of how proactive the LGBTQ+ community — and all New Yorkers — are when it comes to their health and seeking medical care,” the city’s Department of Health said in a statement. “We’re talking to the CDC to get more doses and we’re looking at how we can increase our capacity across the city.”
Advocates for gay men’s health have been calling for expanded access to the vaccine for weeks. Until Thursday, it was being offered mostly only to known contacts of infected people and some healthcare workers. Particularly with the Pride Parade and related celebrations taking place this weekend, it looked like the city had underestimated demand.
James Krellenstein, co-founder of PrEP4All, a health advocacy group, was among the first in line at the clinic around noon. He got his fix around 12:30pm and said he felt relieved to have at least some protection before the Pride parties got into full swing.
“I find it very bizarre to do this without prior consultation with the community,” he said, but opening the clinic “is the right move. We need to deploy the vaccine at this point to the general population.”
There is a great desire, he said, to receive at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine before this weekend, which will provide at least some protection against the spread, even among people who do not plan to have sexual experiences. The disease can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with infected lesions anywhere on the body and does not require sexual contact.
“At parties, people often take off their shirts and dance next to each other,” he said. “This is allowing us to feel a little more comfortable.”
Vaccines will be available at the clinic from 11 am to 7 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, the city announced. The web-based scheduling system is also expected to have more appointments from Sunday, officials said.
Monkeypox virus, so named because it was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958, often starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever and swollen lymph nodes, and then progresses to a painful rash with pus-filled lesions on the face and neck. body.
Although much less lethal than its relative, smallpox, it can be fatal, with a fatality rate of between 3 to 6 percent in the African regions where it is endemic. It mainly spreads by skin-to-skin contact, but it can also be transmitted by respiratory droplets from prolonged close contact or contact with shared objects such as towels.
What to know about Monkeypox virus
What is chickenpox? Monkeypox is an endemic virus in parts of Central and West Africa. It is similar to smallpox, but less severe. It was discovered in 1958 after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this global outbreak, the disease sometimes presented itself differently, with just a few lesions in the genital area or internally. As a result, there is a risk of being confused with other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and herpes, the CDC warned in a recent health alert.
Testing in the United States is done at one of about 70 public health labs across the country, but the CDC recently announced that it was expanding access to some commercial labs to make it easier for healthcare providers to order the tests. The pace of testing is still at a relatively low level, however, and some people who suspect they have monkeypox are struggling to find providers to test them.
As of Wednesday, there were a total of 1,058 tests nationwide for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs, the CDC said.
Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at New York University who is among a group of activists pushing for more access to testing and vaccination, said there was “immense community frustration” over access to the vaccine and hoped other cities would follow. in the footsteps of New York and clinics opening soon.
At the same time, he said, health officials should better communicate the launch of clinics in advance to ensure wider access to doses.
“We fully understand that we are flying the plane as we build it and not everything will be perfect,” he said. “But we’re also concerned about equity and communication, and the people who got vaccinated first were the ones who were super connected to information.”
Luck and chance also influenced who fired the first shots.
David Polk, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, said he arrived at the Chelsea clinic around 12:15 pm, but not to be vaccinated. He saw people setting up a table and a tent near the front door.
“I thought it was an offer,” said Polk, 39. It turned out to be an application for the vaccine, and Mr. Polk was one of the first to arrive.
“I’m sure they weren’t expecting all these people,” Polk said, “because when I got here there was no one and I had to wait a while because the scheduling system wasn’t working.”
But within half an hour, dozens of vaccine candidates began to arrive and a long line quickly formed, he said. “I think the team here was just as shocked as I was,” Polk said.
Sean Piccoli contributed reporting.