More monkeypox vaccines are coming to NYC. Should you get vaccinated — and how?
Your guide to all things monkeypox — from symptoms to where to get vaccinated in the city.
The rollout of the monkeypox vaccine in New York City has been riddled with technical difficulties, communication issues and a major shortage of doses.
On Wednesday, the New York City Department of Health announced that 6,000 new doses of the vaccine had arrived in the city, only for appointment portal glitches to pause bookings. That comes on the heels of last month’s vaccine distribution debacle involving long lines and quickly-filled appointments at the Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic.
With all the confusion, you may be wondering about the specifics of the contagious viral disease, who’s at risk and how concerned you should be.
We’re here to help. Here’s a guide on what to know about the monkeypox outbreak.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox isn’t new. It was first discovered in the 1970s, according to the World Health Organization and since then, cases have primarily been linked to international travel to places where the disease is common, including central and west Africa.
The cause of the disease — which is part of the orthopoxvirus family along with smallpox — is unknown.
The Centers For Disease Control has identified fever, headache, chills, and swollen lymph nodes as symptoms of monkeypox. Those infected are also known to have pimple-like rashes that may appear on the face, hands, feet, and inside of the mouth. The infection can last anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks.
How does monkeypox spread?
Monkeypox can spread through direct contact with infected skin, bodily fluids, and intimate physical contact as outlined by the CDC. The disease can also spread through indirect contact with fabric — such as bedding and clothing — that has been on infected areas of the skin.
As of early July, the number of people who’ve tested positive for monkeypox in New York City is low, around 100 cases. Many experts agree that should not cause alarm amongst New Yorkers — but some level of concern is warranted as cases steadily rise.
“We should not be panicking. We’re not in a place where we’re seeing thousands of cases a day. But there’s clearly community spread going on,” said Christian Grov, Associate Professor at CUNY School of Public Health.
Monkeypox is not nearly as transmissible as something like COVID-19 or the flu because most cases are spread through close contact with lesions of contaminated material. Stephen Morse, Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center, underscored that the risk of contracting monkeypox in shared public spaces is extremely low.
“At this moment, I’d say it’s about the same as the chance — maybe less — of being struck by lightning than you are walking down the street and somehow catching it without having close contact with an infected person,” said Morse.
Wafaa El-Sadr, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, suggests people should use a “two-pronged” approach: vigilance without alarm.
She suggested New Yorkers should be “knowledgeable of how the virus is transmitted,” aware of where to seek care and continue to follow updates about the outbreak — with the aim to “assuage anxiety.”
“It is important to avoid panic, which can be paralyzing,” she said.
Who’s most at risk?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases based on early data.
The city health department began offering monkeypox vaccines to men who have sex with men at the Chelsea Health Sexual Health Clinic in late June. The demand outweighed the availability of vaccines, with appointments filling quickly and dozens of people waiting in line for hours to get vaccinated. As a result, many eligible men were left without a vaccine.
Experts who spoke with THE CITY agree that having a targeted approach to vaccinate groups deemed as being at a higher risk may slow the spread of the disease.
According to El-Sadr, the City Health Department should also expand vaccine distribution to sexual health clinics across the city and “think creatively” to set up vaccination hubs in communities across the city building off of lessons learned from the COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
“You can’t expect people to go to you. You’ve got to meet people where they are,” said El-Sadr.
Where can I get the monkeypox vaccine?
As of Wednesday, monkeypox vaccines in New York City were being offered at the Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic by appointment only for men who have sex with men.
But later in the day, there were no more available appointments. The city’s health department stated on social media that more would become available once a technical issue was resolved with their appointment portal.
Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan tweeted an apology for the glitches on Wednesday night, pleading to “do better in the days and weeks ahead.”
To schedule an appointment, visit the NYC Department of Health website.
Heads up: The vaccine available now in New York is administered in two doses, four weeks apart.
Two vaccines — what’s the difference?
There are two types of vaccines used to treat monkeypox: JYNNEOS and ACAM2000. JYNNEOS is the vaccine that is being made available by the city. It is approved by the FDA for prevention of monkeypox for people over 18 years old and, once again, is administered in two doses, four weeks apart. You are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose.
The monkeypox vaccines are typically utilized to protect against smallpox and have been found to be very effective in protecting against the disease according to the CDC. Even if you have contracted the virus, the vaccine is still effective in preventing more severe symptoms.
The second vaccine sometimes used to treat monkeypox, known as ACAM2000, has significant downsides according to reporting by The Atlantic: it carries risks for pregnant and immunocompromised people, has serious side effects and requires multiple needle jabs.
Why are there so few vaccines available?
The JYNNEOS vaccine is made by a small company in Denmark with a manufacturing facility that has been shut down since last August, The New York Times previously reported.
In late June, The White House released an outbreak response to distribute an initial 56,000 vaccines immediately to “jurisdictions with the highest number of cases and population at risk,” with 1.5 million vaccine doses following over the next few months.
On June 30, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that 8,165 doses would soon become available in New York state. Just over a week later, the health department announced the 6,000 vaccines.
THE CITY will update this story as more information becomes available.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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