Partly as a result of Pride-related parties and all the close physical contact that goes along with them, San Francisco’s total number of confirmed and suspected monkeypox cases more than doubled in the last week, sparking fears of an insufficient supply of vaccines.
But worries of an immediate vaccine shortage appear unfounded—for the moment. The San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH), which is coordinating distribution of the vaccine, said it received 2,300 doses of the Jynneos vaccine this week, nearly quadrupling the total number the city had previously.
“These doses have been or are in the process of being distributed out to 10 community and health care sites throughout San Francisco,” the agency wrote in a statement to the Standard, noting that the department has already requested additional allotments from the state.
That’s good news for the city, where cases rose from 16 last week to 40 as of July 5. Like the outbreaks in New York and Washington, D.C., San Francisco’s monkeypox case count is largely clustered among gay men, a function of Pride Weekend festivities and the robust public-health infrastructure and history of outreach that are a legacy of the HIV/AIDS crisis. (Monkeypox, it should be noted, is not a sexually transmitted infection; prolonged physical proximity is the main vector.)
“SFDPH’s strategy is to distribute Jynneos vaccines to community partners with a focus on equity and low-barrier access to all those who meet the eligibility,” DPH’s statement said.
Specifically, that means either close contact with someone who has a confirmed or suspected case, or a notification from a venue or event where other people were known to have been exposed.
In total, more than 600 people have been vaccinated citywide. However, the Jynneos vaccine requires a second shot one month later, so the total of fully vaccinated people is likely much lower.
At present, vaccine access is far from widely available, even within the LGBTQ+ community. But a representative for Lyon-Martin Community Health Services, a nonprofit clinic in the Mission that chiefly serves transgender and low-income women, confirmed that they had received an allocation but had not yet finalized internal protocols on eligibility or the logistics of distribution. Additionally, one must already be an established patient to get the vaccine from the clinic.
Numerous attempts to contact the San Francisco AIDS Foundation or Strut, its clinic serving a primarily LGBTQ+ clientele in the Castro, went unreturned.
However, in Contra Costa County, a vaccine clinic on Thursday evening was open to all.
“We had more than 61 people come and get a vaccine, and another dozen or so on a standby list,” said Will Harper, a spokesperson for Contra Costa County Health Services. “The big constraint is supply. We don’t have a lot of vaccine, but we are looking at another clinic soon.”
Tight supplies are not the only obstacle to quelling the outbreaks, which may be worsening nationwide, although the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that the government would make an additional 144,000 vaccine doses available on Monday, July 11. In light of the politicization of Covid vaccines, hesitation or outright refusal is also a concern. In the specific case of monkeypox, Californians over age 50 who were vaccinated for smallpox may recall that that jab often left a puckered scar.
“It doesn’t leave scarring,” Harper said of the monkeypox vaccine. “I’m old enough that I have the dimple on my arm, but the monkeypox vaccine does not have the same scarring effect.”
Monkeypox lesions, however, do leave lifelong scars. If you believe you’ve been exposed, it’s important to self-isolate. If you display symptoms—fever, swollen lymph nodes and a telltale rash resembling pimples or blisters that can appear almost anywhere on the body— inform your provider and get vaccinated within 14 days. Up-to-date information can be found through SF DPH.
Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]