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LA County Limits Monkeypox Vaccine To Certain High-Risk Angelenos

Round and spherical shapes appear in gray on a white background.
A microscopic view of monkeypox virions.
(Courtesy CDC)
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With more than 50 probable or confirmed monkeypox cases in Los Angeles County, health officials are broadening who is eligible for the limited number of shots they currently have.

Starting Monday, patients at community clinics who have been recently diagnosed with rectal gonorrhea or early syphilis will be offered the two-dose vaccine, as well as some people held at Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A.

People who test positive for monkeypox and their close contacts were already eligible for the shots.

Last week, the Biden administration rolled out a national monkeypox vaccine strategy, saying it would send hundreds of thousands of vaccines to outbreak areas from the national strategic stockpile. L.A. County received about 6,000 doses this week. As distribution slowly ramps up, County Department of Public Health officials say they’ll broaden who can receive the vaccine.

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Meanwhile, other large metro areas such as New York City and Washington, D.C. are offering shots to any high-risk adult who wants one, including men who have sex with men.

L.A. County’s more targeted approach makes sense, said Dr. Andrea Kim, Public Health’s Vaccine-Preventable Disease Control program director.

“I think here in L.A. County what’s different is we really want to ensure that we're able to offer the vaccine in an equitable way, for those at highest risk of monkeypox,” she said.

Kim said sexual health clinics will offer the vaccine to high-risk patients.

“They know their clientele, so we really want to be working with them to integrate the vaccine into their routine clinical care,” she said. “And we want to disperse [the vaccine] across the county, so definitely different from our sister jurisdictions.”

A slide explaining monkeypox spread by close physical contact or contact with shared items like clothes or bedding of an infected person.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health)

Public Health officials say they've identified about 200 incarcerated people at Men’s Central Jail as being eligible for the monkeypox vaccine because of “high risk” behaviors.

Asked why the effort to immunize incarcerated people is limited to Men's Central, Public Health said in an email that it "will do our initial vaccine rollout there, with plans to expand based on need and vaccine availability."

There haven’t been any in-custody cases of monkeypox so far, but officials noted that could change at any time with new cases popping up in the county on a daily basis.

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Monkeypox is caused by a member of the same family of viruses as smallpox. Although this version of monkeypox isn't usually deadly, it can cause a nasty illness that lasts for several weeks. Typically, people have a fever, muscle aches and then a rash on their face, mouth, hands and possibly genitals.

Health officials recommend avoiding close physical contact — both sexual and non-sexual — with people who have symptoms of an illness, sores, or rashes.

700 Cases Nationwide So Far

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports at least 136 confirmed cases in California so far.

Nationwide, 700 cases have been confirmed in 35 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, incident commander for the monkeypox response at the CDC, told NPR “there appears to be more sustained community transmission happening in some cities in the United States with people maybe not knowing who they got monkeypox from.”

The current global outbreak is unusual because not all cases are linked to travel to countries where monkeypox is continually present, such as west and central Africa. Instead, the CDC says the outbreakis concentrated among men who have sex with multiple male partners and have been somewhere monkeypox is known to be spreading.

“This is the largest outbreak outside of the regions where the critters have it, and the first ever multi-continental outbreak, so it's not just going to vanish,” said UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer.

“I think we should just stay tuned,” he said. “This is not going to blow up like COVID, but this outbreak is going to have legs. It may be like syphilis and it'll just sort of be around.”

The vaccine is said to be about 85% effective against monkeypox, although its effectiveness wanes over time.

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