Activists escalate pressure on government over monkeypox response

Monkey Pox Demo
Activists are growing frustrated over the government’s response to monkeypox.
Donna Aceto

Facing a growing monkeypox outbreak, activists rallied in Manhattan on July 21 and outlined a series of demands for state and federal officials following widespread criticism over the slow vaccine rollout.

Folks huddled at Foley Square on a warm day in New York City to spread the word about the urgent need to confront the monkeypox crisis at a time when doses are so limited that all the appointments tend to be reserved immediately after becoming available. Meanwhile, cases of monkeypox continue to rise in New York City, which tallied 60 more cases on July 22. In total, 839 people have tested positive for monkeypox in the city.

The PrEP4All Coalition and ACT UP New York unveiled two separate lists of demands — one for the state government and the other for the federal government — in the next phase of the fight against monkeypox.

Among the demands, activists are calling on the state to establish an emergency fund to support people who test positive for monkeypox; ramp up outreach efforts targeting incarcerated individuals, homeless people, and those who use drugs; expand the time slots for vaccine appointments; provide hotel rooms for those who are unable to quarantine; and ensure vaccine access for sex workers and transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary folks.

“I want to remind you all that we cannot forget sex workers because for so many of us, sex is not just pleasure,” Cecilia Gentili, an activist who has fought for the decriminalization of sex work in New York, said at the Foley Square rally. “It’s also work. And what are we going to do if we can’t work? What we are going to do if we don’t have money? Sex workers are being forced to the impossible situation of choosing between prioritizing their health or having enough money to survive.”

The rally featured several other speakers, including longtime HIV/AIDS activist Ivy Arce, out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, “Fire Island” actor Tomas Matos, and Matt Ford, who recalled his experience with monkeypox.

The list of demands for the federal government — which ultimately distributes the vaccines — is more focused on vaccine rollout efforts, but it also seeks improvements on the testing front: Activists are pressing the federal government to increase access to monkeypox testing, ensure commercial labs report demographic data on the results of tests, and commit to covering the costs of monkeypox tests for all.

Activists are also pushing the federal government to accelerate the effort to import vaccine doses from Denmark to help ease the demand.

The list also voices concerns that monkeypox, which is primarily spreading among men who have sex with men, will eventually take hold within other demographics. Activists want the federal government to “proactively and transparently revise” estimations to anticipate the spread of monkeypox to other communities.

Jennifer Balenciaga delivers remarks.Donna Aceto
Emphasizing public health at the Foley Square rally.Donna Aceto
Public health researcher and activist Keletso Makofane takes the stage.Donna Aceto
Cecilia Gentili reminds folks not to forget sex workers when discussing the response to monkeypox.Donna Aceto
“Fire Island” star Tomas Matos dons an ACT UP shirt.Donna Aceto
Matt Ford recounts his painful monkeypox experience.Donna Aceto
Ivy Arce speaks in front of the crowd.Donna Aceto
State Senator Brad Hoylman joins the rally.Donna Aceto
Sending a message to the government in response to the monkeypox crisis.Donna Aceto

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