High demand for monkeypox vaccine in New York as feds commit to more doses

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Out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman has pushed for more resources in the fight against monkeypox.
Donna Aceto

UPDATE 7/1/2022: On July 1, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that the city will receive a new batch of “nearly 6,000 doses” of the monkeypox vaccine in the coming weeks. More vaccine appointments will be made available at on.nyc.gov/monkeypox.

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With the demand for monkeypox vaccine clearly exceeding the supply of that vaccine, the city’s efforts to combat the monkeypox virus are constrained by the limited number of vaccine doses provided to New York City by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We received 1,000 doses of Jynneos from the federal government and opened up a temporary vaccine clinic [on June 23] at our Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic,” the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said in a statement. “[June 27] was the last round of appointments and until we receive more supply, we are unable to release additional vaccination appointments.” On June 28, however, the federal government issued an announcement vowing to release more doses.

The city clinic at 28th Street and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, the only one of the department’s nine clinics that delivered the vaccinations, distributed the doses over four eight-hour days, achieving a rate of just over 30 inoculations per hour. The vaccine requires two doses delivered 28 days apart. Inoculated individuals acquire immunity to monkeypox two weeks after the second shot. The city is pressing the CDC for more doses.

“We’re in conversation with CDC to obtain more supply — this is ongoing so I don’t have an ETA,” a DOHMH spokesperson wrote in an email.

The initial distribution of just 1,000 doses prompted State Senator Brad Hoylman, City Councilmember Erik Bottcher, and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine to write to the state Department of Health and Governor Kathy Hochul to enlist them in pressuring the federal government to release more doses.

“Wait times were extensive, and many eligible New Yorkers were turned away,” they wrote, describing the scene at the Chelsea clinic. “They were told to make appointments, but when they visited the appointment website, none were available.”

As of June 28, there are 55 suspected monkeypox cases in New York City with most occurring among men who have sex with men, according to the DOHMH. Most of those people have experienced “mild symptoms” and have recovered on their own. On its website, DOHMH reported it was experiencing “high demand” for the vaccine. The CDC is reporting 306 confirmed cases in 27 states and the nation’s capital as of June 28. The CDC reported that “early data suggest that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases.”

There are two vaccines — ACAM200 and Jynneos — that are effective against monkeypox. They were originally developed as vaccines for smallpox. When smallpox was eradicated in the US over 50 years ago, the mandate that required vaccination against that virus was ended, but the federal government has continued to keep smallpox vaccines in its Strategic National Stockpile, which is managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The ACAM200 vaccine is less effective against monkeypox and has more serious side effects. Of the two, only Jynneos is approved as a vaccine for monkeypox.

A CDC page says the stockpile of drugs and supplies that is maintained to respond to emergencies holds enough smallpox vaccine “to vaccinate every person in the United States.” Another page that is administered by HHS says it has enough vaccine “both Jynneos and ACAM2000 — to vaccinate millions of Americans, if needed.” The HHS page is titled “Monkeypox Countermeasures.”

The CDC did not respond to two emails and a phone call seeking more information about the agency’s response to monkeypox, though as Gay City News was completing this story, HHS announced that it would immediately release 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine and then distribute another 240,000 “in the coming weeks,” according to a June 28 press release. Through the summer and fall, HHS will release another 1.25 million doses. Altogether, HHS is promising to release 1.6 million doses this year.

Before the HHS announcement, Bottcher and Hoylman, who are both openly gay, were pressing for a better response by the federal government.

“It is incredibly frustrating and infuriating that New York City has already exhausted its supply of monkeypox vaccine and isn’t currently taking any appointments,” Bottcher said in a statement. “This was entirely predictable and should have been anticipated, especially during Pride Month. The federal government needs to come through with more doses now and ramp up production widely so that we stop the spread before monkeypox becomes entrenched in our country.”

Bottcher, a Democrat, represents the West Village, Chelsea, and parts of Midtown. Hoylman, also a Democrat, represents the West Village, the East Village, and parts of Midtown.

In an interview, Hoylman said constituents were reporting “frustration that they have been unable to make vaccine appointments ranging to a general concern that this could be spreading in the community.”

But he has a commitment from the state to secure more doses.

“I hope to see results from it and appointments will be opened as quickly as possible,” Hoylman said. “I know they’re working with a federal bureaucracy that seems to be moving slowly.”

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