Faced with a growing monkeypox virus outbreak, New York City health officials on Thursday expanded access to a monkeypox vaccine, offering it to a new group of people who may be at higher risk: men who have had multiple or anonymous male sexual partners during the past two weeks.
New York City is the first US jurisdiction to expand vaccine access beyond close contacts of infected people, following similar moves in the UK and Canada.
Public health officials globally have scrambled to come up with an effective response to the outbreak, which has spread to dozens of countries since mid-May, particularly among networks of gays, bisexuals and other men who have sex. with men.
New York City has reported 30 cases of monkeypox virus as of Thursday. Nationally, 173 cases had been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, more than 3,300 cases of the disease have been reported in 42 countries outside the African regions where it is endemic, in the world’s largest outbreak of the disease.
No deaths have yet been reported in the outbreak outside Africa, but 72 deaths have been reported in African endemic regions since the beginning of the year.
The opening of the first clinic to offer the vaccine in New York City on Thursday was not publicly announced in advance. Instead, after a press release came out Thursday at 11:30 am, the news spread on social media and through word of mouth about the sudden availability of the vaccine.
By early afternoon, a line of over 100 men had formed outside the city-run Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic, which is the only place in the city that offers the injections.
At around 1:30 pm, the clinic workers started turning away new people, asking them to make appointments online for the next week.
There is a limited supply of the preferred vaccine for fighting 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. Although the federal government owns about 1.4 million doses, Mark Levine, president of the borough of Manhattan, said there were only about 1,000 doses of the vaccine available to city residents.
“The question we’re seeing today is further evidence of how proactive the LGBTQ + community – and all New Yorkers – is when it comes to their health and seeking health care,” the city’s Department of Health said in a statement. . “We are in talks with the CDC to get more doses and are looking at ways to increase our capacity across the city.”
Gay men’s health advocates have been calling for expanded access to the vaccine for weeks. Until Thursday it was mainly offered only to known contacts of infected people and some health workers. Particularly with the Pride parade and related celebrations that took place this weekend, it seemed the city had vastly 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 by 12:30 and said he was relieved to have at least some protection before the Pride parties hit full swing.
“I think it was really bizarre to do it without prior consultation with the community,” he said, but opening the clinic “is the right move. At this point we need to distribute the vaccine to the wider population. “
There is a great desire, he said, to get at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine before this weekend, which will at least provide some protection against spread, even among people who have no plans 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.”
The vaccines will be available at the clinic from 11:00 to 19:00 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, the city announced. The web dating system is also expected to have more appointments starting Sunday, officials said.
Monkeypox virus, so named because it was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958, typically begins 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 on the body.
Although much less lethal than its relative, smallpox, it can be fatal, with a mortality rate of between 3 and 6% in African regions where it is endemic. It spreads primarily by skin-to-skin contact, but can also be spread by respiratory droplets from prolonged close contact or contact with shared items such as towels.
What to know about the monkeypox virus
What is monkeypox? 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 held for research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this global outbreak, the disease sometimes presented itself differently, as only a few lesions in the genital or internal area. As a result, there is a risk of it being confused with other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and herpes, the CDC warned in a recent health warning.
Testing in the United States is performed in one of about 70 public health labs across the country, but the CDC recently announced it was expanding access to some commercial labs to make tests easier for healthcare professionals to order. However, the pace of testing is still at a relatively low level, and some people who suspect they have monkeypox have struggled to find vendors to test them.
As of Wednesday, there had been a total of 1,058 tests nationwide for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs, the CDC said.
Joseph Osmundson, a New York University microbiologist who is part of a group of activists pushing for greater access to testing and vaccinations, said there was “immense frustration in the community” about access to the vaccine and hoped that other cities followed in New York’s footsteps and soon opened clinics.
At the same time, he said, health officials should make sure they better communicate the launch of clinics in advance to ensure wider access to doses.
“We fully understand that we are piloting the plane as we build it and not everything will be perfect,” he said. “But we’re also concerned about fairness and communication, and the people who got vaccinated first were the ones who were super connected to information.”
Luck and chance also affected who got the first few hits.
David Polk, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, said he arrived at the Chelsea clinic at around 12:15 but did not get vaccinated. He saw people setting up a table and a curtain near the front door.
“I thought it was a gift,” said Mr. Polk, 39. It turned out to be a registration for the vaccine and Mr. Polk was one of the first to arrive.
“I’m pretty 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 bit because the dating system didn’t work.”
But within half an hour, dozens of vaccine seekers started arriving and a long line quickly formed, he said. “I think the staff here were as shocked as I was,” said Mr. Polk.
Sean Piccoli contributed to the reporting.