Georgia to get extra monkeypox vaccine doses for gay pride event

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia is among several states receiving more monkeypox vaccine doses in preparation for Atlanta Black Pride

As monkeypox cases continue to rise in Georgia, U.S. officials are providing the state with additional vaccines in advance of thousands expected to visit Atlanta for gay pride events Labor Day weekend.

Health and Human Services officials announced Thursday that an extra 50,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine will be allocated to states and local health departments with upcoming gay pride events. The extra doses of vaccine, from the Strategic National Stockpile, can be ordered on top of existing vaccine allocations and supply.

The number of doses sent to each place will be based on factors like the size of the event, how many health workers will be available to give shots, and how many of the attendees are considered at highest risk for catching the virus.

The vast majority of cases have occurred in men who have sex with men, but health officials stress that anyone can get monkeypox.

“More shots in arms is how we get the outbreak under control,” Bob Fenton, the White House monkeypox response coordinator, told reporters Thursday. He said the effort is an attempt to “meet people where they are.”

At least a dozen U.S. pride events are scheduled over the next two months, including large gatherings in Atlanta and New Orleans in early September. U.S. officials said they will send up to 2,000 additional doses to North Carolina, where the Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade will be held this weekend.

ExploreEarly data shows monkeypox disproportionately affecting Black men

Atlanta Black Pride events begin on Aug. 31 and continue through Sept. 6. Organizers said they are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the monkeypox virus.

“Our events are being monitored so that they are not overpacked… I think that the issue that you’re going to have when it comes to monkeypox are going to be the club events, the nighttime events and the pool parties,” said Amber Moore, chief operating officer and vice president of Atlanta Black Pride.

“Those events will have to be more cautious from what I’ve heard.”

Moore said that Atlanta Black Pride typically draws 20,000-40,000 visitors during Labor Day weekend each year. She also noted that organizers are taking steps to limit coronavirus infections as well.

“COVID is still on the rise. Let’s not just focus on monkeypox. We have to focus on both because both are on the line,” she said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned: “While we are offering the (monkeypox) vaccine at these events to those at high risk, this is a two-dose vaccine series, and receiving the vaccine at the event will not provide protection at the event itself.”

As of Friday, Georgia reported 1,066 monkeypox cases, according to the Centers Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, over 12,000 people in Georgia have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Monkeypox has hit Black Georgians hard: They account for over 700 of the state’s cases. Questions of equity have come up around vaccines. Despite Black people making up 70% of cases in the state, they have received only 45% of the vaccines doses, according to statistics released DPH.

Southern Decadence, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ events, is expected to attract 200,000 or more people to New Orleans over Labor Day weekend. The Bourbon Street Extravaganza, a free concert held amid the event, has been canceled over monkeypox concerns, organizers said this week.

Frank Perez, a former grand marshal of the parade that’s the centerpiece of Southern Decadence, said a number of New Orleans gay bars have already had vaccine events. He said so far officials have done an adequate job with the vaccine campaign although “more is better.”

Health officials also are urging other steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including temporarily limiting sexual partners.

Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, but it wasn’t considered a disease that spreads easily among people until May, when infections emerged in Europe and the U.S.

There have been more than 39,000 cases reported in countries that have not historically seen monkeypox. The U.S. has the most infections of any country — more than 13,500. About 98% of U.S. cases are men and about 93% were men who reported recent sexual contact with other men.

Monkeypox has been spreading mainly 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.

People with monkeypox may experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. Many in the outbreak have developed extremely painful zit-like bumps. No one in the U.S. has died, but deaths have been reported in other countries.

The U.S. has a limited supply of what is considered the main weapon against the virus — a vaccine called Jynneos. The doses are currently being given to people soon after they think they were exposed. Scientists are still trying to establish how well the shots are working.

The government last week moved to stretch the supply by giving people one-fifth the usual dose, injected just under the skin, instead of a full vial injected into deeper tissue.

ExploreRacial disparities revealed in monkeypox vaccination data

Many health workers may have little experience giving shots using the just-under-the-skin method, which requires different needles and syringes.

Officials this week announced the release of 442,000 of the smaller doses for order by state, local and territorial health departments. On Thursday, they said more is coming next week — 1.8 million doses, or 360,000 vials.

Officials also announced a new agreement with a Michigan manufacturer to help speed production of 5.5 million vaccine vials recently ordered by the U.S. government.

Under the deal, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing will help package raw vaccine ingredients currently stored at an overseas facility owned by Bavarian Nordic, which makes the Jynneos vaccine. Officials said the extra capacity should help speed up U.S. vaccine orders, most of which weren’t expected to be delivered until next year.

Also on Thursday, health officials said next week they will boost the supply of TPOXX, a drug for treating monkeypox infections, by 50,000 treatment courses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report