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A monkeypox vaccine is available for at-risk New Yorkers

Faced with a growing outbreak of the monkeypox virus, New York City health officials on Thursday expanded access to a monkeypox vaccine, offering it to a new group of people who may be at higher risk: men who have had multiple or anonymous male sexual partners in the past two weeks.

New York City is the first US jurisdiction to expand access to the vaccine beyond close contacts of infected people, following similar moves in the UK and Canada.

Public health officials around the world have been scrambling to craft an effective response to the outbreak, which has spread to dozens of countries since mid-May, particularly among networks of gay, bisexual men and others who have sex with men.

New York City reported 30 cases of the monkeypox virus on Thursday. Nationally, 173 cases had been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, more than 3,300 cases of the disease have been reported in 42 countries outside the African regions where it is endemic, in the largest global outbreak of the disease.

No deaths have yet been reported in the outbreak outside of Africa, but 72 deaths have been reported so far this year in endemic regions of Africa.

The opening of the first clinic to offer the vaccine in New York on Thursday was not publicly announced beforehand. Instead, after a press release was issued at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, news spread on social media and by word of mouth about the vaccine’s sudden availability.

By early afternoon, a line of more than 100 men had formed outside the city-run Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic, which is the only place in town offering injections.

Around 1:30 p.m., clinic workers began turning away new people, asking them to book appointments online for the next week.

There is a limited supply of the preferred vaccine to fight monkeypox, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is made in Denmark and is known as Jynneos in the United States. Although the federal government has about 1.4 million doses, Mark Levine, the Manhattan borough president, said there are only about 1,000 doses of the vaccine available to residents of the city. .

“The demand we are seeing today is further evidence of the proactivity of the LGBTQ+ community – and all New Yorkers – when it comes to their health and health care seeking,” the Department of Health said. City Health in a statement. “We are in discussions with the CDC to get more doses and are looking at how we can increase our capacity across the city.”

Gay men’s health advocates have been calling for expanded access to the vaccine for weeks. Until Thursday, it was offered mainly only to known contacts of infected people and to certain health workers. Particularly with the Pride Parade and related celebrations taking place this weekend, it appeared the city had grossly underestimated demand.

James Krellenstein, co-founder of PrEP4All, a health advocacy group, was among the first to line up at the clinic around noon. He received his dose at 12.30pm and said he felt relieved to have at least some protection before the Pride parties were in full swing.

“I think it was really weird to do this without consultation with the community first,” he said of the clinic opening, “but it’s the right decision. We need to roll out the vaccine at this stage with the population at large.”

There is a great desire, he said, to get at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine before this weekend, which will provide at least some protection against the spread, even among people who do not. do not plan to have sexual experiences. The disease can be transmitted by skin contact with infected lesions anywhere on the body and does not require sexual contact.

“At parties often people take off their shirts and dance next to each other,” he said. “It makes us feel a little more comfortable.”

Vaccines will be available at the clinic from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, the city said. The online dating system is also expected to have more appointments from Sunday, officials said.

Monkeypox virus, so named because it was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958, usually begins with flu-like symptoms, such as fever and swollen lymph nodes, then progresses to a rash. painful with pus-filled lesions on the face and body.

Although much less deadly than its relative, smallpox, it can be deadly, with a mortality rate of between 3 and 6% in African regions where it is endemic. It is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact, but can also be spread through respiratory droplets from prolonged close contact or contact with shared objects like towels.

In this global epidemic, the disease has sometimes presented differently, such as only a few lesions in the genital area or internally. As a result, there is a risk of confusion with other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and herpes, the CDC warned in a recent health alert.

In the United States, testing is done at one of approximately 70 public health labs nationwide, but the CDC recently announced it is expanding access to select commercial labs to make it easier for providers to order the tests. health. However, the pace of testing is still at a relatively low level and some people who suspect they have monkeypox are struggling to find providers to test them.

As of Wednesday, there had been a total of 1,058 tests nationwide for orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs, the CDC said.

Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at New York University who is part of an activist group calling for better access to testing and vaccination, said there was “tremendous frustration in the community” over the access to the vaccine, and he hoped that other cities would follow. following in the footsteps of New York and will soon be opening clinics.

At the same time, he said, health officials should ensure they better communicate the launch of clinics in advance to ensure wider access to doses.

“We fully understand that we’re flying the plane as we build it and not everything will be perfect,” he said. “But we’re also concerned about equity and communication, and the people who got vaccinated first were the ones who were super connected to information.”

Luck and chance also counted on who got the first hits.

David Polk, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, said he arrived at the clinic in Chelsea around 12:15 p.m., but not to be vaccinated. He saw people setting up a table and a tent near the front door.

“I thought it was a gift,” said Mr. Polk, 39. It turned out to be a vaccine sign-up, and Mr. Polk was one of the first to arrive.

“I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting all these people,” Mr. Polk said, “because when I got here there was no one there, and I had to wait a bit because the appointment system was not working.”

But within half an hour, dozens of vaccine applicants began arriving and a long line quickly formed, he said. “I think the staff here were as shocked as I was,” Mr Polk said.

Sean Piccoli contributed reporting.

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