Metro Weekly

Mayor Bowser Offers Monkeypox Vaccine Update

City officials are encouraging at-risk populations, including LGBTQ people, to pre-register for monkeypox vaccines.

Monkeypox rash via Flicker

D.C. officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, urged District residents — especially LGBTQ residents at higher risk — to pre-register for monkeypox vaccine appointments through the city’s online health portal.

Speaking at a Monday press conference held outside Whitman-Walker Health’s 1525 building on 14th Street NW, Nesbitt and Bowser noted that, when compared to other jurisdictions like the 50 states and U.S. territories, the District of Columbia has the highest number of monkeypox cases per capita.

Thus far, 122 individuals have been diagnosed with monkeypox in the District of Columbia. No fatalities have occurred among that group. 

According to Nesbitt, the ages of the infected individuals range from 18 to 64, with a median age of 32 and the majority of cases occurring among people ages 30 to 34.

Thus far, 63% of cases have occurred among white individuals, 96% among self-identified males, and 82% among people who identify as gay.

“We are specifically working with reaching out to members of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically gay and bisexual men, because those are the communities most affected by the virus at this moment,” Bowser said during the press conference.

“But we also want people to understand that this is not a virus that can only affect the LGBTQ community. And we should all understand the basics of the virus and what we need to look out for. That way, if we notice the symptoms, we can go to the doctor right away or to a clinic like Whitman-Walker to get tested.”

So far, the District has received more than 8,300 doses of vaccine from the federal government to administer to individuals at higher risk of becoming infected, which includes those with compromised immune symptoms, men who have sex with men, transgender women, commercial sex workers, and staff at any venues where sex or skin-to-skin contact is likely to occur, such as bathhouses, saunas, or sex clubs.

People who meet those criteria are encouraged to pre-register for appointments via the portal at preventmonkeypox.dc.gov.

Vaccines are being administered at two official sites in the city from Sunday to Friday from 1 to 8 p.m.

Nesbitt and Bowser also noted that some select doses of vaccine have been allocated to community partner organizations, including LGBTQ-friendly organizations like Whitman-Walker Health and Us Helping Us, so they can hold “pop-up” clinics and offer another option for higher-risk populations, including LGBTQ individuals of color, to get vaccinated.

Nesbitt said the city expects to receive approximately 4,000 additional doses of vaccine from the federal government in the coming weeks, and pre-registering will help public health officials understand the level of demand for the vaccine so they can request more if needed.

“This isn’t a process where we can ask for 50,000 doses and receive 50,000 doses,” Nesbitt said, noting that the CDC is using an allocation formula based on the number of cases in a particular jurisdiction, meaning the District has had to rely on health providers and laboratories quickly testing and identifying suspected cases of monkeypox-related infection in order to approach the CDC and request more doses to meet demand.

Nesbitt also noted that additional doses that the city obtains do not constitute a full preventative regimen, since the JYNNEOS vaccine must be administered in two separate shots, spaced one month apart.

According to the CDC, full immunity from the vaccine only occurs two weeks after an individual receives their second dose.

District resident who have already received their first dose have been told to monitor their email, about a month after their first dose, for further information from DC Health on scheduling a second injection.

Since DC Health began making appointments available on June 27, approximately 2,600 District residents have received the first of two doses of JYNNEOS smallpox vaccine — which is closely related to monkeypox.

The city has also supplied vaccines, as a form of post-exposure prophylaxis, to an additional 136 individuals who were identified as a “close contact” of an infected person.

Approximately 560 individuals in total — the majority of whom are District residents themselves — have been identified as “close contacts” of infected individuals. DC Health is currently trying to contact those people in order to get them vaccinated before they begin to develop symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines given within four days from the date of exposure offer the best chance of preventing the onset of monkeypox, and vaccines given between 4 and 14 days after the date of exposure may reduce the symptoms of the disease.

The 122 individuals who were diagnosed with monkeypox have been connected with treatment — which DC Health must request from the federal government based on demand, just as it does with vaccines — which has helped ease some of the discomfort from the rash and lesions it produces, and, in some cases, has allowed the rash to clear up sooner than expected.

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