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New Orleans' most prominent LGBTQ+ health clinic out of monkeypox vaccine

monkeypox louisiana illuminator.jpg
Men who have had sex with more than one man over the past 14 days are eligible for the monkeypox vaccine in Louisiana. (Canva image)

This story was first published on the Louisiana Illuminator website.

CrescentCare, New Orleans best-known health care provider for the LGBTQ+ community, ran out of monkeypox vaccine doses Tuesday and doesn’t know when it will receive more.

“We don’t have anything here to give to anybody at this point,” Joe Hui, the clinic’s spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon. “We have no idea if [more doses] will show up tomorrow morning or if the things will show up three weeks from now.”

Hui said other health care providers in New Orleans may still have doses of vaccine available, but state health officials haven’t told CrescentCare who those other providers are. So the clinic hasn’t been able to refer the people who call CrescentCare seeking the vaccine to those other sources.

“At this point, we don’t even know who the other clinics are that have it,” he said.

The state of Louisiana overall has received an extremely small allocation of monkeypox vaccine from the federal government so far – just 2,021 doses as of last Friday. That amount is only enough to treat a little over 1,000 people, with each person receiving two shots of the vaccine 28 days apart.

Louisiana is pushing the federal government to provide more vaccine doses, saying the current allocation is inadequate to meet its needs. It is also competing with bigger states such as New York for a limited supply.

Monkeypox, until recently, was mostly confined to African countries but is now spreading rapidly across the globe. On Saturday, the World Health Organization declared its outbreak a global emergency.

As of Tuesday, Louisiana only had 28 confirmed cases, 24 of which were found in New Orleans or the parishes immediately surrounding it. Health officials stress that is likely a significant undercount.

Monkeypox symptoms can be flu-like and involve rashes and the swelling of the lymph nodes. The rash, which might be subtle, can appear on the face, hands, feet or genitals. It could also be inside the mouth, anus or vagina.

The illness is rarely fatal, but can be extremely painful and cause scarring. Those with compromised immune systems, children under 8, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be vulnerable to more severe sickness, according to experts.

The virus is spreading in the United States primarily through skin-to-skin contact or an exchange of body fluids. It can also be transmitted through shared linens or clothes, but that hasn’t been a significant factor in local cases, according to CrescentCare.

In the United States, most monkeypox cases have been found in men who have sex with other men, though a handful of women and at least two children have also contracted the virus. Health experts warn that anyone, regardless of their sexual history, can become infected.

Given the limited vaccine available in Louisiana, the state health agency initially restricted access to the medication to those who had been directly exposed to monkeypox. People generally have a one-to-two-week window from the time of exposure until when they develop symptoms, which offers an opportunity for the vaccine to quash or lessen the illness.

The state last week also opened up eligibility for the vaccine to men who have had sex with multiple men or an anonymous man in the last 14 days. Men who had sex with men in social venues, men who paid for sex with men and men who were paid to have sex with men in the last 14 days are also supposed to have access.

In theory, that could make the monkeypox vaccine available to thousands of Louisiana residents, Hui said, but the state doesn’t have enough supply to launch a widespread inoculation campaign.

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