Electeds demand action amid slow monkeypox vaccine rollout

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The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s offices in Long Island City, Queens.
Matt Tracy

Elected officials are begging the federal government for more monkeypox vaccine doses and calling for improvements to the city’s vaccine rollout process after the sign-up website crashed yet again on July 12 in the midst of skyrocketing demand for jabs.

“Due to overwhelming traffic, as soon as appointments went online this afternoon, the site delivered error messages for many people who were unable to make appointments,” the city Health Department said in a written statement on July 12. “This is just further proof that demand is very high, and we will continue working to make vaccine available. We will advise New Yorkers when more appointments can be made. We apologize for the frustration caused and are working to build stable appointment infrastructure as we roll out more appointments as vaccine supply increases in the coming weeks.”

Monkeypox is primarily only affecting men who have sex with men and cases have continued to rise in New York City and elsewhere. As of July 13, the city tallied 336 cases of orthopox — which are presumed to be monkeypox cases — and that is likely a significant undercount because testing is just now getting ramped up.

The botched vaccine rollout followed similar situations in recent weeks when the Health Department invited folks to receive the vaccine at health clinics in the city. Clinics have thus far opened in Chelsea and Harlem in Manhattan and Corona in Queens.

New York City and State both rely on the federal government to deliver more doses of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine — but it could take some time. The federal government recently announced plans to provide more than four million doses in the next 12 months.

Officials representing multiple levels of government have asked city, state, and federal agencies to step up the response to monkeypox. Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who represents the east side of Manhattan as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens, criticized the city for providing short notice for vaccine appointments and called on the federal government to release more vaccines.

At the city level, Mayor Eric Adams and City Health Commissioner Aswhin Vasan spoke by phone with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on July 12 to request additional doses.

LGBTQ city lawmakers are also adding their own voices to the monkeypox fight. Out Councilmember Lynn Schulman of Queens, who chairs the Committee on Health, delivered a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky urging the federal government to bring more vaccines as soon as possible. The letter was co-signed by several other members of the Council’s LGBTQIA+ Caucus: Crystal Hudson of Brooklyn, Tiffany Cabán of Queens, Chi Ossé of Brooklyn, Erik Bottcher of Manhattan, and David Carr of Staten Island.

The LGBTQIA+ Caucus is also working collectively to hold the city accountable in light of the issues over vaccine rollout.

“This was predictable and preventable,” Bottcher, Ossé, and Carr said in a joint statement on July 11. “New Yorkers deserve a full accounting of what happened today, and into all aspects of the city’s response to this outbreak. We are calling for a City Council oversight hearing, where the public can get answers and make their voices heard.”

Bottcher went on to post a lengthy thread of tweets on July 12 explaining that the delay in vaccines from the federal government is tied to a snarled inspection process.

“There are 17 million doses gathering dust at a factory in Denmark,” Bottcher wrote. “The US let the Denmark plant’s good standing certification with the US lapse, and none of the doses can be delivered until the FDA conducts a new inspection/review — even though 1M shots are already vialed, labeled, and ready for delivery. The FDA has apparently conducted the inspection and is currently reviewing. This was supposed to happen months from now but the Biden admin is doing it now. If the FDA can’t authorize this in the next few days, Biden should overrule the FDA and accept the E.U.’s certification.”

Monkeypox can cause rashes across the body as well as fever, headache, chills, exhaustion, and other symptoms. It can spread through intimate person-to-person contact, including contact with infectious rashes, scabs, or body fluids. It can also spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact and through clothing or linens that come in contact with monkeypox rashes or body fluids.

For appointment alerts and other updates, text MONKEYPOX to 692-692 or visiting nyc.gov/monkeypox.

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