Hundreds get monkeypox vaccine at DeKalb Co. center

Yolanda Johnson, BSN RN, prepares Robert Gilleo for his monkeypox vaccination at the North Dekalb Health Center in Chamblee on August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Yolanda Johnson, BSN RN, prepares Robert Gilleo for his monkeypox vaccination at the North Dekalb Health Center in Chamblee on August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Public health official: “We want to take care of people. We need more vaccines.”

Hundreds of people came to the North DeKalb Health Center from across the Atlanta metro area on Friday to take advantage of vaccinations for the monkeypox virus.

About 300 initial doses of the vaccine were offered, county officials said — 240 through online appointments that took only 15 minutes to fill up on Thursday morning, and another 60 or so that DeKalb managed to offer through community partners such as churches or nonprofit organizations.

The mood among those seeking the shots who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was one of frustration at having to make multiple attempts to get an appointment at other locations in recent weeks, as well as relief at getting some protection from the virus. Each of them noted that they knew dozens of others who were also seeking the vaccine and had not been able to book an appointment to date.

There was also concern that the disease, which to date has mostly spread among men who have sex with men, will stigmatize them.

The DeKalb effort came as Georgia’s case numbers rose to 544 on Friday, sixth-highest nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The state had reported only 11 cases at the beginning of July.

Friday’s event came just a day after President Biden announced a public health emergency because of monkeypox, a declaration that county officials hoped would soon bring more vaccine to the state and county health departments. The vaccine can not only prevent infection but can also treat the disease, health officials said.

“We want to take care of people,” said Chief Clinical Officer Rebekah Chance-Revels. “We need more vaccines.” The CDC is currently recommending vaccination for anyone who has had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks in an area with known cases of monkeypox.

Combined ShapeCaption
Elizabeth Vogel MN MPH fills syringes with the Monkeypox vaccination Friday morning at the N. DeKalb Health Center in Chamblee, August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Elizabeth Vogel MN MPH fills syringes with the Monkeypox vaccination Friday morning at the N. DeKalb Health Center in Chamblee, August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Elizabeth Vogel MN MPH fills syringes with the Monkeypox vaccination Friday morning at the N. DeKalb Health Center in Chamblee, August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

By Monday DeKalb County will have given 900 doses and is seeking 1,700 more doses for next week, said Chance-Revels. The county is also beginning discussions about sending out mobile vaccination units and finding to accommodate large-scale vaccination efforts.

Justin Leuthiphonh, 26, sat and waited to see if he felt any side effects from the shot around 10:30 a.m. He had tried twice before to book vaccine appointments. “It’s very frustrating,” he said, adding that he knows about 15 people who have gotten the vaccine.“ The number of people I know who haven’t far outweighs that.”

The commercial real-estate leasing agent said that “the public not as affected by the disease needs to know this is not a gay disease — it’s a disease that is disproportionately affecting gay people.” He noted that “cultural scars” remain from the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when “gays were seen as dirty, and less than.”

Monkeypox can affect anyone, according to the state Department of Public Health (DPH), but so far mostly affects men who have sex with men. It can spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, respiratory droplets, and handling bedding or clothing of an infected person. DPH advises that, while contact with fabric or surfaces that have previously touched the monkeypox rash or body fluids is one way the virus spreads, that avenue of exposure has not been identified as a common mode of transmission in this outbreak or for monkeypox in general.

Georgia’s cases include four women, according to DPH. So far, no Georgia children have been diagnosed with the disease, although pediatric cases have been reported elsewhere in the U.S.

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Robert Gilleo receives his monkeypox vaccination from Yolanda Johnson, BSN RN, at the North Dekalb Health Center in Chamblee on August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Robert Gilleo receives his monkeypox vaccination from Yolanda Johnson, BSN RN, at the North Dekalb Health Center in Chamblee on August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Robert Gilleo receives his monkeypox vaccination from Yolanda Johnson, BSN RN, at the North Dekalb Health Center in Chamblee on August 5, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Robert Gilleo had been able to book an appointment for Friday after a friend saw the county’s announcement on his church’s website. The 50-year-old consultant, who had already tried last week to get vaccinated, said he knows at least 10 friends who are asking each other, “We know we need it — where can we get it? I was the first one in my circle of friends.”

Jamel Clarke, 46, drove to the Chamblee location from Mableton after failing twice in recent weeks to land an appointment at Cobb and Fulton county sites. The software engineer said he was concerned about the vaccine not reaching people who lacked Internet access, or transportation, or the ability to take off from work. “They should take trucks out, mobile vaccinations, and get to where the people are,” he said.

Chance-Revels, the chief clinical officer, said this idea is being discussed among Atlanta metro area counties and the state, adding, “We need more vaccines. We need more staff.” There is also talk of working with area medical and nursing students to help with a mobile vaccination effort.

Leuthiphonh said he hopes the public health emergency declaration leads to more vaccines being delivered to Georgia soon. “It’s not enough for what this community needs to flatten the curve,” he said. “We’re definitely a hotspot and we need to get more vaccines.”

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How to get the monkeypox vaccine

Local health departments in Georgia have started administering the vaccine at the health departments and they are holding vaccination clinics. Here’s where to get more information:

For Gwinnett County, go to gnrhealth.com/

For DeKalb County, go to dekalbhealth.net/

For Fulton County, go to fultoncountyga.gov/ and then click on health services

For Cobb County, go to cobbanddouglaspublichealth.com/

For Clayton County, go to https://www.claytoncountypublichealth.org/