In The Fight Against Monkeypox, LGBTQ Events Play A Big Role
The monkeypox outbreak appears to be slowing in Los Angeles County, where the virus hit hard and spread quickly.
Health officials say new infections are declining, after declaring a public health emergency in August. More than 1,900 people have tested positive for monkeypox in L.A. County since the outbreak began in May.
The U.S. has relied on a strategy of vaccinating high-risk populations — especially focused on men who have sex with men — in an effort to control the outbreak, but in recent weeks fewer people are showing up for their second doses.
To make the shots more convenient for high-risk groups, clinics are focusing on getting the word out about pop-up vaccination sites at events like DTLA Proud, an LBGTQ+ festival held annually in downtown L.A.
“I’ve been looking for a site because, for me, I work a 9-to-5 job, and it seems like all of the pop-up vaccination sites close before I get out of work,” said Annie Loren, who was in line to get a monkeypox shot with her friends. “A lot of my friends were hitting me up being like ‘Hey, this one’s open on the weekend,’ so that’s how I’m here.”
Loren says doesn’t know anyone who has had monkeypox, but she’s having conversations with sexual partners, and that makes her feel safer.
“Being bisexual means I also sleep with men who are also bisexual, so you know I have to kind of ask, ‘How are you feeling about the monkeypox stuff?’ And just making sure it’s part of the conversation,” she said.
Joe Trainor was dancing to the thumping music in line with a friend. He’d already gotten one dose earlier in the week and was there for moral support. Images of people with painful rashes caused by monkeypox on social media had been enough to encourage him to get the shots.
“Just, like, scrolling through TikTok and stuff like that — not to make people scared, but it just really puts it in front of your face. Like, wow, like there’s something we can do to prevent this? I’m all about it, I’ll be the first one,” he said.
Further down the line, Tony Benítez waited for his second dose.
“Why not? It doesn’t cost you anything and you’ll be safe, so it’s a good thing to do. And I didn’t have a reaction to the first one, so I don’t have a problem with it,” he said.
Actor Kit Williamson and his husband, John Halbach, both known for the TV series Eastsiders, were in line for their second and final doses. They waited six weeks between shots rather than the usual four in order to give other people the chance to get their first dose.
“We just need to step up manufacturing of this [vaccine] because, God forbid, it spreads into the wider population,” Williamson said. “We could be stuck with this for the rest of our lives, and I would rather not. I think everybody here feels the same way. Obviously, we’re all taking an hour out of a day of celebration and a party to go do something responsible.”
St. John’s Well Child and Family Center offered the pop-up vaccination site. CEO Jim Mangia said it was their first time at DTLA Proud.
“So yesterday [Saturday] we vaccinated close to 600 people, and today we’re expecting a similar amount. It’s been pretty steady all day. We’re really happy to be here,” he said.
The vials of the Jynneos vaccine are paid for and distributed by the federal government, but clinics like St. John’s have struggled to get reimbursed for the administrative costs.
“Just for today, we have nine registration employees, 14 medical assistants, two R.N.s, we have security, we have coordinators. All of that staff is expensive,” Mangia said.
He estimates the weekend vaccine clinic will cost St. John’s $50,000 in total. The mobile unit, which houses the refrigerators needed to keep the vaccines cool, costs about $10,000 per day to deploy, Mangia said.
In September, $41 million was added to the current state budget to combat the monkeypox outbreak. Most of the money will go to state and local health departments, with $1.5 million earmarked to reimburse vaccine administration at community clinics such as St. John’s.
“We’re never made whole by the state. But I think whatever we get reimbursed will help. We always have to subsidize our work,” Mangia said.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. death caused by monkeypox during this outbreak. The L.A. County resident had been hospitalized with the virus. Health officials hope through events like this, more people will choose to get the shots.
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