Using golf pencils to fill out intake forms in the wind as people in passing cars shouted questions about monkeypox, a line of people hoping to get vaccinated snaked out of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and onto Potrero Avenue.
The orderly queue Tuesday afternoon—largely, but not exclusively, gay men—numbered in the hundreds, many of them anxious about potential exposures. With the city’s cumulative count of confirmed and suspected monkeypox cases reaching 60, supplies of the two-jab Jynneos vaccine have been unable to keep up with demand.
On Wednesday, the city issued a press release saying that many sites administering the shot would run out today and others would be out by the end of the week. The Health Department said they had made an urgent request for federal supplies but did not yet know how many doses they would receive or when.
By 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sam Buckwalter, Hector Serrano and Chris Williams had been waiting for roughly three hours.
“There were 190 people ahead of us,” Buckwalter said. “They started taking them in at 11:30, so I assume people got here at 11 a.m.”
At one point, Buckwalter added, workers with SFGH’s monkeypox vaccine clinic told him they had run out of doses for the day—only to reverse course a few minutes later.
“The line was 200, 300 deep, and a bunch of people left,” he said. “They didn’t know if a shipment was going to come in. Yesterday they were able to do 400.”
As it turned out, enough people had missed their appointments that at least a few doses remained—a kind of vaccine standby, as it were. But that would require waiting until 6 p.m., which means nearly a five-hour wait.
All three men, who identify as LGBTQ+, said they came to SFGH because “friends of friends” had been exposed.
“I’ve had shingles before,” Williams said, “and if it’s even a tenth of that, I can’t deal with a tenth of the pain.”
Demand for vaccines may be outstripped only by demand for accurate information about the outbreak.
Although monkeypox is not sexually transmitted and LGBTQ+ people are at no medically higher risk of contracting it than other populations, the rising anxiety within the Bay Area’s queer community is palpable.
At a virtual town hall on Tuesday night, leaders of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Dr. Susan Philip of the San Francisco Department of Public Health sought to assuage the community’s worry. More than 575 people attended the Zoom meeting, an information session tinged with occasionally pointed rhetoric directed at the federal government’s response.
Questions ranged from whether hand sanitizer was sufficient to avoid transmission (it isn’t), if an HIV diagnosis renders a person ineligible for the vaccine (it doesn’t) or if positive but asymptomatic people can spread monkeypox (they cannot, although fatigue alone may suffice as a symptom).
Philip noted that with large-scale outdoor festivals like Up Your Alley and the Folsom Street Fair on the horizon, event producers should encourage attendees to be cautious, but did not suggest that monkeypox would cancel events on the same scale as Covid has.
“This is not a new disease,” she said. “But this is the first time it’s shown up in so many communities at once.”
Jorge Roman, who oversees clinical services at Magnet, the AIDS Foundation’s wellness center in the Castro, said he was receiving as many as 500 calls per day, with a vaccine waitlist of 2,000 people. Some 6,000 doses are needed altogether just to protect Magnet’s client base.
All told, only 1,000 San Franciscans have gotten a jab—or their first dose, anyway.
“Getting both vaccines, separated by four weeks, gives you optimal response,” Roman said, adding that “you get quite a bit of robust immune response” two weeks after the first shot.
Drawing an explicit parallel between the current outbreak and the advent of the HIV/AIDS crisis, AIDS Foundation CEO Dr. Tyler TerMeer acknowledged the fear around monkeypox, even though it’s very seldom fatal and most cases resolve on their own.
“After Sunday, we’ll make appointments, as we have [the] vaccine,” TerMeer said. “Forty years ago, the phone rang in our first office in the Castro and we’ve been stepping up to answer ever since.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to remove quotes from a patient who was standing in line due to concerns about accuracy.
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]