Los Angeles County expanded access to the monkeypox vaccine today to some gay and bisexual men and transgender women, but the limited supply of doses means they will only be provided to high-risk residents who are contacted by the Department of Public Health.
The health department and the Los Angeles LGBT Center will host a virtual town hall Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss the latest information on monkeypox.
Questions can be submitted in advance to have them answered during the live stream.
As of this morning, 60 monkeypox cases were confirmed in Los Angeles County, nearly double the amount from a week ago.
County public health officials stressed during an online media briefing last week that the risk of infection in the general population remains extremely low.
Most people who develop monkeypox have a mild illness that lasts between two to four weeks, they said.
Most cases in gay, bisexual men
Most cases so far, including those in Los Angeles County, have primarily occurred in sexual or intimate contact among gay and bisexual men.
“In this current outbreak, the highest risk of transmission is very close, skin-to-skin contact, including kissing and sex, with the lesions someone has on their skin,” Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist with the California Health Department, told Q Voice News in June. “But monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease.”
“There is some potential risk with prolonged, intimate face-to-face contact with someone, but monkeypox is very different from COVID, which is a respiratory disease and highly infectious,” Pan said
“We have seen rare cases where the virus can be transmitted if someone shares clothing, and someone with lesions was wearing that clothing,” she said.
Some of the initial monkeypox cases in Europe were traced to a circuit party on the Canary Islands and a leather event in Belgium that were attended by gay and bisexual men.
The Los Angeles County cases thus far have no history of international or out-of-state travel, meaning the virus had been circulating in the community before it was detected, the county health department has said.
Also, no hospitalizations or deaths have been reported in the county.
Through contract tracing it was determined that the gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles County who were diagnosed in June “attended large events where the exposure to monkeypox may have occurred,” but the county health department didn’t offer other details about what type of events or where the events were located.
“It’s not that queer people are any more likely to get monkeypox. Nothing about monkeypox makes it a uniquely queer disease. Anybody can get monkeypox,” said Dr. James Simmons, a hospitalist nurse practitioner in Los Angeles.
“It’s purely coincidental that the spread started at queer events in Europe,” Simmons said. “Queer people historically travel within queer communities and attend queer events. So because this outbreak likely, and coincidentally, started at queer events, it’s important we make sure the LGBTQ+ community is educated regarding their potential risk.”
News of additional cases has prompted some calls for expanded access to the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine, which is in limited supply.
The county had already administered its supply of approximately 1,000 doses of the vaccine, which is a two-dose regimen.
Andrea Kim, of the Los Angeles County health department, said during the press conference that the county has received an additional 6,000 doses, allowing a slight expansion of eligibility.
That happened today, but the shots will still only be offered to people deemed at high risk by the county.
Under previous guidelines, shots were only being offered to residents who had confirmed contact with an existing case or who attended an event with a high risk of exposure.
That eligibility expands to the following groups:
- Gay and bisexual men and transgender women who are patients of a sexual health clinic and have a diagnosis of rectal gonorrhea or early syphilis within the past three months
- Limited number of high-risk individuals who were identified by clinical staff at Men’s Central Jail.
Kim stressed that inoculations will be given only to people who are specifically notified by the county.
“Residents who have not been contacted by public health or our clinic partners will not be able to be vaccinated at this time due to limited supply,” she said.
She said eligibility will expand as more doses become available.
As of today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 866 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S.
New York has the highest number of cases with 156, and California is second with 148.