NC health experts discuss stigma and access to monkeypox vaccination at city hall

Health experts from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations discussed monkeypox testing, prevention, and vaccines in a city hall on Aug.30.

Speakers at the event included NCDHHS Medical Advisor Dr. Victoria Mobley, NCDHHS Deputy Health Secretary Mark Benton, and NC Sex Health Conference Founder Tanya Bass.

The event was moderated by Rebby Kern, Equality NC’s Director of Education Policy.

According to Mobley, there were 48,844 cases of monkeypox globally and 18,101 cases nationwide on Aug.29 and 312 cases in North Carolina on Aug.30.

As of September 1, there are 322 total cases of monkeypox with 11,420 total vaccines administered in North Carolina, according to NCDHHS.

Men make up 99% of North Carolina’s current cases. Black patients make up 68% of cases and Hispanic patients 9%. Mobley also said North Carolina is seeing a large portion of cases among people living with HIV.

An August 10 net worth report from the NCDHHS found that although about 70 percent of monkeypox cases were diagnosed in black men, Black North Carolinians were receiving less than a quarter of the vaccinations.

He said this report was a call to action and that vaccination clinics are run by both Pride events and the Triangle Empowerment Center to better reach the most affected populations.

Mobley said global monkeypox rates are starting to stabilize and this trend could also occur in North Carolina.

“This is a recognition that we are reaching the prevalence of monkeypox in our population,” he said. “So with the tests, with the vaccines, we are actually able to tackle the epidemic right now.”

Monkeypox is transmitted through close personal or skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a monkeypox rash. Mobley advised people not to look for typical symptoms, but to talk to their doctor about anything unusual, including rashes, painful swallowing, or bowel movements.

Bass said people should be aware that they are in close contact with others, especially at meetings, clubs, and in the heat, when skin is more likely to be exposed.

Mobley noted other methods of transmission including respiratory droplets, an infected person’s bedding or bedding, and sexual activity.

“There are several ways it can be transmitted, but we absolutely know that right now it is transmitted through activities that occur during sex,” she said.

Mobley said debates over whether monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection are still ongoing. She said the virus has been isolated from multiple body fluids, including those typically associated with sexual transmission, but it’s unclear whether that material is infectious.

“We don’t want people to panic, but we do want people to be concerned about their health and that of others in general, while being able to pay special attention to the communities most affected,” Bass said.

She said she and her colleagues are working to reduce the stigma surrounding monkeypox due to its association with sex.

Benton said there is broad access to monkeypox tests, which can be done with primary care physicians, local clinics, or county health departments. You said access to vaccines hasn’t been that broad, but supplies are on the rise.

“In the past few days, we have received just over 18,000 new doses of the monkeypox vaccine,” Benton said.

Mobley said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have provided guidance on how to extend the duration of the vaccine supply.

Initially in North Carolina, one vial of the vaccine per patient was used and administered subcutaneously. Now, one fifth of the vial can be used per person if the vaccine is administered intradermally.

He said this method will leave a small blister under the skin and could be associated with more redness or swelling of the arm.

Patients are not completely immune until two weeks after their second dose, according to Mobley.

According to an email statement from Ken Pittman, executive director of Campus Health at UNC, the monkeypox test is available at Campus Health. The need for testing is determined based on symptoms and potential exposure. Results are available in two to three business days.

Vaccines are also available from Campus Health for people with known or suspected exposure to monkeypox, as well as for men who have sex with transgender men or individuals who report having multiple or anonymous sexual partners, diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, or who are taking HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Doses depend on weekly assignments from Orange County Health Department and NCDHHS.

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