The fear of monkeypox causes the phones of local health clinics that treat members of the LGBTQ community to ring as the recently declared global health emergency spread rapidly in Philadelphia.
Many local clinics are rejecting callers looking for a vaccine, including some exposed to the disease, due to lack of doses.
»READ MORE: Are you at risk of contracting monkeypox? Here’s everything you need to know.
State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta highlighted this frustration on Friday at a news event to discuss the public health response to monkeypox at the Mazzoni Center, the city’s largest LGBTQ health agency.
Standing on the podium, he put the phone on speakerphone and dialed the number – 215-685-5488 – advertised by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health for those exposed to seek vaccination.
Please note that all available monkeypox vaccination appointments have been filled at this time. If you have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox, please stay online to be logged in to contact trackingsaid the voice on an automatic message.
He hung up, leaving behind about a dozen community leaders and LGBTQ health organizations.
Kenyatta, who identifies as gay, said people who have been exposed or want to protect loved ones only call every day to hear that repeated message.
“There is no vaccine. That there are no dates, “she said.
Healthcare professionals have described they are unable to care for patients because they do not have access to vaccines.
Nackea Bachman is a medical assistant at Bebashi Transition to Hope, a non-profit health organization that works with people of color living with HIV / AIDS. Although she works with an immunocompromised and high-risk population for prolonged illness, Bachman said she has no monkeypox vaccines from her to offer.
A patient started crying yesterday when Bachman ordered him to quarantine for up to four weeks.
“They just broke up,” she recalled, noting that the patient was concerned about how they could afford to lose their jobs. “This could have been avoided if they had had the vaccine.”
There is not enough vaccine available to respond to an outbreak that spreads nationwide more rapidly in communities of color than in the white population. Philadelphia has a growing need and insufficient supplies, city health officials said.
Monkeypox is mainly spread through direct contact with lesions or rashes of infected people. Although it is not transmitted through sex itself, transmission in the current outbreak appears to be linked to close contact such as intimate contact. The World Health Organization last week declared a global health emergency in the outbreak, which has so far mainly spread among men who have sex with men.
Federal officials told reporters Thursday that more than half of the 4,600 cases analyzed nationwide have affected people of color, with 31% of cases reported involving people who identify as Hispanic or Latino and 27% involving people of color.
»READ MORE: Philly’s LGBTQ network rushed to offer monkeypox information and services despite slow public health response
Overall, the CDC has reported nearly 5,000 cases. Those numbers are likely insufficient, even in Philadelphia, where health officials reported 67 cases on Friday, up 17 cases since Monday.
Three to five patients present each day with symptoms of monkeypox at the Mazzoni Center, said Steven Robertson, the center’s supervising medical assistant.
The city said it has provided 700 doses of the vaccine to LGBTQ-affiliated clinics, including Mazzoni, but Robertson said that whenever vaccines arrive, the vast majority are given or assigned within 24 hours. He said the supply is insufficient to meet the growing needs of the city, let alone the safety of health workers.
“We as healthcare professionals engage with positive patients and are not offered a vaccination to keep us safe,” said Robertson.
»READ MORE: Philadelphia’s supply of monkeypox vaccines is getting a big boost, allowing more people to shoot
Philadelphia health officials said Friday that the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. Philadelphia has received 2,625 vaccines so far doses, which are provided by the federal government.
The city expects to receive an additional 6,020 doses through October or November, enough to vaccinate more than 8,600 people under its distribution plan.
“The Department of Health fully acknowledges that even this number is not enough,” spokesman James Garrow said in an email.
The city is extending its offer by adopting a different approach to vaccination than the one recommended by the CDC, whose guide includes two doses. The first dose provides protection and a second dose strengthens long-term immunity.
The city plans to offer only one dose per hour to protect more people.
To prevent disease after exposure, the vaccine is most effective in the first four days after an infection, although it can still offer protection in the first two weeks if a person does not develop symptoms.
San Francisco and New York state, two of the areas most affected by monkeypox in the United States, declared a health emergency on Thursday. Advocates said this would be useful for expanding testing and vaccines, as well as sending a message to the federal government to take strong action.
But Philadelphia city council member Mark Squilla said during the local event on Friday that the decision should be left to the scientific experts.
In challenges launching monkeypox tests and vaccines, others have seen echoes of the early days of COVID-19.
So far, public outcry over the response has mostly come from LGBTQ leaders and organizations, which further frustrates some in a community that remembers how in the early days of the HIV / AIDS epidemic, the virus was labeled a “gay disease” .
“I am an HIV survivor and I know how this stigma feels and how deadly it is,” said Jazmyn Henderson, an activist at ACT-UP Philadelphia, which supports people living with HIV / AIDS. “We have to test, treat everyone. Vaccinate everyone. This is not a population specific virus. It’s a human virus ”.