Monkeypox vaccines to be offered at Atlanta Black Pride events

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia health officials report 1,403 people in the state have been sickened

As tens of thousands of people gather for Atlanta Black Pride, health officials and dedicated nonprofits are working to ensure easy access to monkeypox vaccines for people most at risk of being infected with the virus.

Black men who have sex with men are overwhelmingly more at risk than others to be sickened with monkeypox, according to data in Georgia and across the country. Though these Black men are hit hardest by the virus, they have received the monkeypox vaccine at a much lower rate than other racial groups.

Online vaccine sign-ups will be available during Atlanta Black Pride And at bars in metro Atlanta. Health officials are expanding clinic hours to include evenings and weekends and nonprofit organizations are working to help get vaccine distributed.

And Atlanta Black Pride Organizers said they are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the monkeypox virus — and the coronavirus — including monitoring events to keep them from being overcrowded.

Atlanta Black Pride vice president Amber Moore said such activities as club events, nighttime events and pool parties “will have to be more cautious, from what I’ve heard.” She said they would be monitored “so that they are not overpacked.”

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Meanwhile, the racial access disparity has not been as acute in Fulton County as in the rest of the country. In fact, the Fulton County Board of Health was singled out earlier this week at a White House press conference for its successful efforts to reach communities most affected by the monkeypox outbreak.

In Fulton County, Black people account for 79% percent of monkeypox cases, but have received 56% of the vaccines, according to the Fulton County Board of Health. Overall, Fulton health officials report that 69% of its vaccines have been administered to people of color, which includes Black and Hispanic people

Around Georgia, the disparity is greater: Black people account for 78% of monkeypox cases, but they have received only 45% of the vaccines.

At the White House, the monkeypox officials from the Department of Health and Human Services referenced the urgency to offer vaccine to the populations most impacted by the virus — men who have sex with men — in advance of multiple U.S. Black Pride events around the country over the next two months. That includes gatherings in Atlanta beginning this week and in New Orleans in early September.

“I want to raise up that Fulton County finding where really taking steps to address equity means that their story is a lot different than other parts of the country,” said Demetre Daskalakis, the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator. “It just shows that really the way you build confidence is by making vaccines accessible.”

Monkeypox vaccination is recommended for people who have been exposed to monkeypox and for those at high risk of getting the virus, including those who have had multiple sex partners in the past two weeks in an area with a monkeypox outbreak.

The Fulton County Board of Health, in a press release on its website, said its outreach efforts have included weekly monkeypox vaccination clinics on Fridays in partnership with community-based organizations serving people of color.

“Fulton County really took the lead with regards to trying to address Black and brown people. They established priority populations and really stuck to it,” said Nathan Townsend, manager of prevention services for NAESM, an organization that works to address health issues of gay Black men.

Dr. Jonathan Colasanti, an infectious disease specialist, said vaccine appointments were reserved for community-based organizations that work with priority populations. That allowed easier access to the vaccine slots “that were often getting gobbled up by people who have the luxury of sitting around a computer and hitting refresh,” added Colasanti, who is also medical director of Grady Memorial Hospital’s Ponce De Leon Center, which serves those living with or affected by HIV. Colasanti said his clinic has been able to secure vaccine doses which helps with vaccine equity.

The number of monkeypox cases in Georgia rose to 1,403, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The tally includes four pediatric cases and 23 women, according to the latest data released Wednesday by the state Department of Health.

At the start of the outbreak, A Vision 4 Hope, which links care, housing and other service to LGBTQ community, referred people to Fulton County’s pop-up monkeypox vaccine locations. Now, they are hosting their own vaccination clinics at their office in College Park and using mobile units at sites around the city for pop-up clinics with help from the Fulton County Board of Health and Gilead Sciences.

The organization will be offering monkeypox vaccinations throughout the entire Pride schedule along with HIV testing. “It’s not something that we’re just turning on for Pride and then after we get to turn it off,” Dewayne Crowder, executive director of A Vision 4 Hope, said.

Larry Scott-Walker, director of the Atlanta nonprofit Thrive SS, which focuses on health equity for Black gay men living with HIV, said “it was super super important to get involved early because we didn’t want to see this, like COVID just run rampant in our communities.” He said his group’s monkeypox outreach has come in contact with more than 1,000 Black gay me in the past month.

U.S. officials are providing Georgia with additional vaccines in advance of tens of thousands expected to visit Atlanta for pride events, according to U.S. officials. The Biden Administration will supply Georgia with up to 5,500 more doses of vaccines leading up to and during Atlanta Black Pride events that began Tuesday evening and will continue through Sept. 6. The vaccine clinics during Atlanta Black Pride include one on Saturday at the Neighborhood Union Health Center in the Vine City neighborhood.

The White House monkeypox response officials also announced this week a new “equity intervention pilot program” to provide vaccines for smaller community events. That is aimed at helping local health officials overcome such barriers as vaccine appointment access or the stigma of attending public vaccine events that may require disclosure of sexual and gender identity and sexual activity.

“One of the things we’ve learned from our response to COVID-19 is that it’s important to reach people where they are,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. It’s not enough to wait for people to show up at a doctor’s office or a county health department to schedule a vaccination appointment.”

About monkeypox

Infections with the type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak are rarely fatal. Over 99% of people who get the currently circulating form of monkeypox are likely to survive. However, people with weakened immune systems, children under 8 years of age, people with a history of eczema, and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers may be more likely to get seriously ill or die.

Texas health officials reported the death of a person diagnosed with monkeypox Tuesday, and if confirmed to be the cause, could be the first known fatal case of the virus in the United States.

Symptoms of monkeypox can be extremely painful, and the rash may leave those infected with permanent scarring.