It took Taylor Scot Harrell weeks to receive the monkeypox vaccine ahead of his European vacation so he wouldn’t be infected with the infectious and unpleasant disease while there.
Infected individuals rarely require hospitalization and the virus has no known long-term chronic effects. Harrell, a gay man, is in a high-risk group for exposure because of his sexual orientation.
As a result, Harrell was ineligible for the vaccine because he had never been exposed to the disease.
“I knew I may potentially bring this disease back because of my high exposure group and where I would be traveling,” Harrell said. “However, I was unable to obtain one, despite the fact that the government has stated that I pose the greatest risk.”
There appears to be a growing demand for the monkeypox vaccination in Texas due to an increasing number of cases being recorded in the state’s major metropolises. As of Friday, Texas had 183 confirmed cases of monkeypox, with the majority (89) occurring in the greater Dallas area, while only six cases were reported in the region that encompasses San Antonio.
Monkeypox, which has spread to more than 70 nations, has been declared a worldwide emergency by the World Health Organization’s director-general on Saturday.
As the highest level of alert issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), a global emergency does not necessarily signify that a disease is highly contagious or fatal. In Latin America, the Zika virus was declared a public health emergency in 2016. The 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic also sparked such pronouncements.
Even before the World Health Organization’s pronouncement, clinics that specialize in LGBTQ health care were receiving daily calls from patients who were concerned about their risks and hoped to be vaccinated.
Currently, the federal government is only distributing a small amount of the recently authorized monkeypox vaccination as more states are reporting confirmed cases.
Health officials in Texas are only authorizing doses for people who have been exposed, whereas other states have received more doses than they can utilize for a broader spectrum of high-risk users in other states with higher numbers. There is no shortage of vaccines for those who have been exposed in Texas, according to state officials.
A representative for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Chris Van Deusen, says that the virus is spreading primarily among males who have sex with men, but it is not a sexually transmitted sickness and that is not the only group of people who can catch it.
In fact, the last time monkeypox broke out in the United States, it mostly affected persons who had cared for infected pet prairie dogs two decades earlier.
Males who have sex with other men are not more vulnerable than other men, according to Van Deusen. “That’s just the group that it’s circulating in at the moment. There’s a good chance it’ll extend further than that.”
Harrell is annoyed by the difficulty in obtaining a vaccine in Texas. Even though he had not been exposed, his neighbor was given the vaccine by public health officials in New York last month, right as he stepped off the aircraft to attend to the Pride Parade.
There are a lot of people in other states talking about public initiatives to protect persons who have sex and are at risk of disclosure on his social media feeds, he said.
People tell you to get your injection or ask for help finding a vaccine when you come to them. On a daily basis, I see it in my posts. According to Harrell, “I don’t see anything like that in Texas.” Cities on both the East and West coasts are clearly taking steps to ensure that this vaccination is available. These cities have definitely mobilized this vaccine. And that’s not what I’m seeing here.”
Contact with the virus-induced lesions is the most common method of spreading monkeypox. However, it isn’t just during sex that this form of skin-to-skin contact occurs. There are four people in Harrell’s life who have tested positive, so he and his pals are taking extra care when they come into touch with each other in social circumstances.
A droplet of saliva from a kiss can also carry it. It can also be spread by direct contact with infected hands, surfaces, bedding, or clothing.
Using condoms or abstinence to prevent monkeypox is ineffective because it is not a sexually transmitted disease. In spite of the fact that it isn’t an airborne disease, it isn’t easy to spread through casual contact.
However, it is rapidly spreading across the country, with more than 2,100 confirmed cases to date. Since it initially arrived in the United States in mid-May, that number has increased by a factor of ten every week. More cases have been reported in California than in any other state, with over 500 total. Five people have died around the world as a result of the disease. Doctors complain that confirming cases is difficult and time consuming because clinics and doctors will have to wait at least another few months for in-office diagnostic testing to become available. As federal health officials crank up their nationwide testing program, the cases in Texas, which are nearly quadruple what they were a week ago, are expected to rise significantly.
Public awareness efforts aiming at the general population on the dangers of monkeypox and how to prevent it haven’t been launched by DSHS. According to Van Deusen, the government is instead relying more on local health networks to get the message out swiftly and efficiently to those at high risk of catching the disease.
Providers say they are trying as hard as they can to prevent the virus from spreading further because there is no statewide strategy for raising public awareness, testing, or immunizing high-risk individuals.
Fort Worth HELP Center for LGBT Health & Wellness CEO DeeJay Johannessen says that public education and vaccine availability are his top priorities.
The final of five private labs in the United States recruited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help contain the monkeypox virus, CDC chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
To prevent the spread of the disease in communities as well as to learn who and where the disease is affecting most people and to identify those who should be prioritized for vaccination and treatment while vaccine and treatment supplies are limited, Walensky said that federally sponsored testing has increased from 6,000 per week in June to over 80,000 per week.
According to Walensky, “the capacity of commercial laboratories to test for monkeypox is a critical pillar in our entire plan to fight this disease.” Patients and healthcare providers will find it easier to access testing because of the existing provider-to-laboratory networks.
Because samples must now be analyzed at a small number of facilities off-site, treatment for those who have been exposed could be delayed if Texas physicians have easier access to tests, which can take a few days.
Johannessen also noted that there has been a considerable demand for a preventative vaccine.
Patients at Johannessen’s clinic, which treats about 3,000 LGBTQ people primarily in the North Texas area, have been exposed to 10 confirmed cases of the virus. However, the clinic receives calls from people who want to get the vaccine in case they come into contact with someone who has the virus, according to Johannessen.
As a result of the anxiety, “we give out information to our patients about it and what to be careful of, the risk factors.” There are only so many vaccines available in the US, and this is especially true in Texas, that we’re having to explain to folks who want the vaccine how difficult it is to acquire it there.
Harrell was infected with the virus after spending time with a buddy over the Fourth of July holiday. Since then, Harrell was finally eligible to obtain an injection just before leaving town for Europe.
Fortunately for Harrell, he arrived at the clinic just as his vaccine dose was being brought in a cooler.
On the day of our meeting, he added, “I guess it speaks to the supply, if they’re buying mine exactly on that day and it’s getting delivered when I arrive.”
There are currently no vaccines available that can be utilized as a mass preventative approach in Texas, according to health officials who serve large numbers of high-risk patients.
According to an infectious disease expert and a medical director at Legacy Community Health, “it’s a significant issue,” Dr. Vandana Shrikanth said. When it comes to high-risk individuals, “no one is protecting them.”
This story was written with assistance from the Associated Press.
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