Georgia clinics face low supply of monkeypox vaccines as cases pick up

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Lack of a centralized website for vaccination appointments has also hampered early efforts

Despite a new allotment of monkeypox vaccine for Georgia, soaring demand for the shots is still overwhelming the limited supply of vaccines. Health officials say more vaccine and more coordination should ease the problems soon.

On the heels of complaints last week that monkeypox vaccinations were nearly impossible to schedule, local county health departments have taken to social media to inform the community about vaccination events and partnered with community health organizations to deliver the shots.

Starting this week, monkeypox vaccines and testing will be available at health districts throughout the state.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that more vaccine is on the way to all states, but some question whether this boost in supply will be enough. The department announced a new national strategy to prioritize vaccines for areas with the highest number of cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of confirmed monkeypox cases in Georgia reached 430 Tuesday, making it fifth in the nation for cases.

By the end of this week, Georgia’s orders for the monkeypox vaccine will total about 27,000 doses. Doses from the latest allotment were expected to start arriving by Monday.

Delays in monkeypox vaccines arriving in Georgia and the lack of a centralized website for making appointments to be vaccinated have hampered early efforts to tackle the expanding outbreak.

Health officials are advising the public to contact local health departments about appointments, vaccine events, and availability. But appointments are getting snapped up as soon as they become available.

Dr. Melanie Thompson, an HIV researcher and physician based in Atlanta said she has received calls from patients who have been exposed to monkeypox and others who are seeking out a vaccine.

“One thing that is hampering our response is a lack of a single source where people can get information.,” Thompson said. “There are several sources out there, but your average individual is not tuned into that,” she said.

The burden of testing, she said is falling on county health departments, and “they are getting overwhelmed.”

DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said DPH is working on a centralized website and link for vaccine sign-up, and she “expects it to be ready soon.”

Other states are also struggling to contain the monkeybox outbreak. California’s governor on Monday declared a state of emergency to speed efforts to combat the monkeypox outbreak, becoming the second state in three days to take the step.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the declaration will help California coordinate a government-wide response, seek more vaccines and lead outreach and education efforts on where people can get treatment and vaccination.

The declaration in California came after a similar one in New York state on Saturday.

The White House said Biden will announce Tuesday that he has tapped Robert Fenton to be the White House coordinator for the monkeypox outbreak. Fenton helped lead FEMA’s mass vaccination effort for COVID-19 as the agency’s acting administrator. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis of the CDC will be named his deputy. Daskalakis, the director of the agency’s HIV prevention division and a national expert on issues affecting the LGBTQ community, previously helped lead New York City’s COVID-19 response.

The White House said the pair would coordinate “strategy and operations to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments.”

More than 5,800 people in the U.S., mostly men who have sex with men, have been diagnosed with monkeypox, which can spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including kissing as well as shared bedding and towels. Monkeypox causes fever, swollen glands, lesions and can be extremely painful.

While most cases have been confirmed in men who have sex with men, anyone can be affected by the virus. U.S. health officials recently reported for the first time monkeypox cases in children — one is a toddler in California and the other an infant who is not a U.S. resident but was tested while in Washington, D.C., according to the CDC.

The children were described as being in good health and receiving treatment. How they caught the disease is being investigated, but officials think it was through household transmission.

Work to get the vaccine to Georgia communities most affected has taken on added importance with a looming festival coming to Atlanta. “One thing that we are all very aware of and working on is that Black Gay Pride is coming up Labor Day weekend. There’s going to be an intensive need for many more vaccines than we have right now to immunize our communities two weeks before Pride,” Thompson said.

Georgia Health officials will join other places including New York City and Washington, D.C., to focus on administering as many first doses of the two-shot Jynneos vaccine as possible in hopes of stretching the scarce vaccine supply as far as they can.

DPH also has said it has enough doses to provide a second shot to those who were among the first to be vaccinated.

Experts have struggled to predict the course of the monkeypox outbreak, pointing to limited testing had complicated efforts to get a true picture of the virus’s spread. Many experts believe that hundreds or thousands of cases likely remain undetected.

Dr. Felipe Lobelo, an epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, said several factors are playing into the real case count likely being far higher than is known. He cited limited access to testing early in the outbreak; a lag in getting cases confirmed; and a reluctance by some people to see a doctor if they have sores in the genital area.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.