Monkeypox cases continue to rise in Georgia

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Vaccines to be more widely available

As cases of monkeypox continue to rise in Georgia, state health officials are taking steps to make the vaccine against the infectious disease more widely available at local health departments.

On Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed 211 monkeypox cases in the state, all among men, and with the vast majority living in metro Atlanta. As more commercial labs have begun handling tests for monkeypox, the confirmed number of cases is rising quickly here and around the world.

The World Health Organization chief said Saturday the expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global emergency, a declaration that could spur further investment in treating the once-rare disease and worsen the scramble for scarce vaccines.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the decision on calling monkeypox a global emergency despite a lack of consensus among experts on the U.N. health agency’s emergency committee, saying he acted as “a tiebreaker.” It was the first time a U.N. health agency chief has unilaterally made such a decision without an expert recommendation.

ExploreJuly 23: UN health agency chief declares monkeypox a global emergency

There have been no reported deaths in the U.S. from monkeypox, which appeared in May in Europe and the U.S. As of Friday, there have been 2,593 confirmed cases of monkeypox in U.S. residents this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. and global case counts include laboratory-confirmed monkeypox cases and infections attributed to an orthopoxvirus, the genus of viruses that includes monkeypox.

Georgia has received approximately 6,000 doses of vaccine – enough for 3,000 people to receive the two-dose series. Allocations of the monkeypox vaccine from the federal government will increase as production of the vaccine ramps up.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Local health departments in Fulton and Gwinnett counties have been holding vaccine clinics on weekends. Appointments for the vaccines filled up within hours. There are two more vaccine events scheduled in Fulton and Gwinnett counties but those slots are already full, according to the health departments.

DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said local health departments are planning to start offering monkeypox vaccines on a regular basis which could begin as early as this coming week. Local health departments will also be able to test for monkeypox.

Nydam said for now the vaccine will start being available at health departments only in metro Atlanta where the cases are concentrated. There is no residency requirement. DPH is still working on the logistics for vaccine distribution including when and which days of the week the vaccines will be available at the local health departments.

The monkeypox vaccine can help prevent illness, and also reduce the severity of the disease for those already infected.

Georgia’s first-ever case was announced in early June. While several of the cases here are associated with either international travel or traveling to a recent conference in Chicago, more recent cases were not associated with travel, according to DPH.

Endemic in parts of Africa, the virus doesn’t usually spread easily among people. While most cases so far are among men who have sex with men, health officials emphasize that anyone can contract the virus through close personal contact and via towels and bedding.

U.S. health officials recently expanded the pool of people who are advised to get vaccinated to include those who may realize on their own that they could have been infected. That can include men who have sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where there was known to be monkeypox or in an area where monkeypox is spreading.

Monkeypox causes flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills, and a rash that can take weeks to clear.

U.S health officials said on Friday two children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with monkeypox. 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 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Monkeypox by the numbers in Georgia

211 – confirmed monkeypox cases in Georgia, up from 93 a week ago.

6,000 – about the number of monkeypox vaccine doses Georgia has received, enough for 3,000 people to receive the two-dose series. Allocations of the monkeypox vaccine from the federal government will increase as production of the vaccine ramps up.

5 – The five metro counties — Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, and Clayton — The state agency said they are prioritizing vaccine distribution. There is no residency requirement.