There are a lot of people who want the monkeypox vaccine in Baltimore right now, but city officials say there aren’t enough shots for everybody — and it’s unclear when more are coming.
Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said at a Tuesday news conference that the city received 200 shots, a supply she described as “extremely limited.” Many of the vaccines already have been used or are scheduled to be administered.
“I want to dispel the notion that there’s a stockpile of shots that aren’t being used,” Dzirasa said. “We were given 200 doses. And we’re actively working to distribute those 200 doses in an equitable way to the individuals at highest risk of contracting and spreading monkeypox here in Baltimore.”
The federal government is controlling the supply of vaccines for monkeypox, a contagious disease that anybody can get through close contact with an infected person. Monkeypox causes painful lesions, swollen lymph nodes, fevers and chills, and can require weeks of isolation and quarantine, but it’s rarely fatal. So far in America, the disease has been primarily spreading among men who have sex with other men.
Dzirasa said other states with higher community spread of monkeypox have received more vaccine doses than Maryland.
A Maryland Department of Health spokesperson said Monday the state has received 3,363 doses of the vaccine, which can be administered before or after exposure, and distributed 3,000 of them.
It’s not clear why Baltimore received less than 7% of the doses despite having 10% of the state’s population and a larger at-risk population than many other communities statewide.
Just under one in four of Maryland’s confirmed cases have occurred in the Baltimore area. According to the latest data from the CDC, Maryland has 87 confirmed cases of monkeypox, and Dzirasa said 21 of those cases are in the Baltimore area.
The state health department did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on Baltimore’s vaccine allocation, given its population and cases.
Baltimore Assistant Health Commissioner Dr. Adena Greenbaum said that as with any contagious disease, the health department is concerned about undiagnosed cases of monkeypox spreading in the community. She encouraged people to get tested if they suspect they have monkeypox.
Of the city’s 200 monkeypox vaccines, Dzirasa said 75 went to Chase Brexton Health Care, a longtime provider of health care to the LGBTQ community, 65 are being administered at health department clinics, and 60 are reserved for close contacts of people with confirmed cases of monkeypox.
Chase Brexton planned to administer vaccines Tuesday and Wednesday after the city held pop-up registration sites Saturday at three Baltimore bars.
“Our strategy is focused on reaching the truly marginalized, like the resident that’s dependent on transactional sex to make rent, or the trans youth that doesn’t have a permanent place to live, or the individuals on methamphetamines that are having anonymous sex while using,” Dzirasa said. “These are examples of where the CDC says you should start, in terms of priority, with such a limited supply.”
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With only 200 doses, Baltimore is seeing demand for the vaccine outpacing the supply.
“I would say that yes, we certainly have experienced a very high demand for a vaccine,” Greenbaum said.
On Monday, Dzirasa, Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott and other city officials met with public health professionals and community members about monkeypox in the city. A group of academics had written to city officials, asking for more transparency on vaccine data in Baltimore.
Dzirasa said that to her knowledge, there are no confirmed juvenile cases of monkeypox in Maryland and that she’s in regular communication with Baltimore public school officials.
“In our last call, we did begin talking about what are the potential risks for monkeypox,” Dzirasa said. “We’ll continue to work with them closely, just as we have with COVID.”
Dzirasa said the city created a website (health.baltimorecity.gov/monkeypox) with information on the disease in Baltimore and has been rolling out a campaign on social media to raise awareness.
“It’s important to note that anyone is susceptible to monkeypox if they come into contact with the virus, no matter your race, gender or sexual orientation,” she said.