Miami-Dade County is opening its first two monkeypox vaccination sites at Tropical Park and in Miami Beach to counter the growing number of cases in the recently declared U.S. public health emergency, county officials said Wednesday.
The vaccine sites will open Friday, although people can register for an appointment in advance by going to miamidade.gov/monkeypox or by calling 1-833-875-0900. The vaccines will be free but for high-risk people only. More than 600 appointments had been made as of Wednesday afternoon.
Miami-Dade had 404 confirmed and probable monkeypox cases as of Tuesday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a Wednesday press conference to discuss how the county was combating monkeypox, which the federal government declared a public health emergency on Aug. 4. The county has seen a doubling of cases over the past few weeks.
The U.S. monkeybox outbreak started at the end of May; as of Tuesday, there were 9,492 confirmed cases across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To open the vaccine sites, the county is partnering with Nomi Health, the company the county contracted to handle COVID-19 testing and vaccines. The two vaccine sites will be at Tropical Park off Southwest 79th Avenue and Bird Road and a mobile site at 224 23rd St. in Miami Beach. The Tropical Park site will be separate from the COVID-19 testing and vaccine sites; signage will direct people to it, county officials said.
The county has received 1,000 vials from the federal government, Levine Cava said. With the monkeypox vaccine in short supply, federal health officials announced Tuesday the JYNNEOS vaccine can be administered between skin layers, as opposed to in the fat layer beneath the skin. In so doing, only a fifth of the full dose will be used, enabling the county to offer five times the number of vaccine doses.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization to authorize the new dosing for those 18 and over and considered high risk. The FDA also on Tuesday allowed children to receive the vaccine under emergency use authorization, if they are at high risk.
Miami-Dade, Broward have most Florida cases
Levine Cava said she wrote a letter to the Florida Department of Health asking for more monkeypox vaccines. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have been the epicenter of the monkeypox outbreak in Florida.
With Miami-Dade’s 404 confirmed and probable cases, and Broward’s 359, the two counties accounted for 763 confirmed and probable cases as of Tuesday, or 75 percent of the state’s 1,020 cases, the Florida Department of Health reported.
People considered at high risk for monkeypox include some lab and healthcare workers; those in close contact with people who have had monkeypox; gay or bisexual men who’ve had a recent history of sexually transmittable diseases; and those living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
On Monday, the CDC published new data that showed 99 percent of U.S. monkeypox cases have been in males, and 94 percent of the cases stem from recent men-to-men sexual or intimate contact, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The federal health agency examined U.S. cases between May 17 and July 22.
Monkeypox, which is manifested through painful lesions, can spread through contact with the infectious rash, scabs or body fluids of someone who is infected with the virus. It also can be transmitted via “respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact” with a symptomatic person, according to the CDC.
In Miami-Dade, the vaccine will be administered in two doses separated by four weeks, Levine Cava said. The county is aiming to offer testing at the sites. Testing, which is done by lesion swabs, may start next week, a county official said.
“It’s real,” Levine Cava said. “It’s serious. And it’s here.”
The county opened the Miami Beach site due to the city’s large concentration of vulnerable residents, Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins said. The site is near the library and accessible by public transportation.
“The supply is limited,” Higgins said. “But send us an appointment. We’ll make sure you’re on the list.”
Close contact of infected person increases risk
While most monkeypox cases are tied to sexual transmission, the virus can be transmitted through close contact, said Dr. Lilian Abbo, an infectious disease specialist at Jackson Health System. That means family, loved ones and those living with an infected person can get monkeypox. Those infected should isolate until their lesions heal, and then get vaccinated.
“Do not come with monkeypox to the vaccine site. You can’t have lesions,” she said.
Miami-Dade cases have doubled over the past few weeks with the outbreak tied to several social activities, she said. A health department representative wasn’t present to elaborate on the surging cases’ sources and the Florida Department of Health did not respond to queries from the Herald.
“We don’t want this to be another COVID,” Abbo said. “It doesn’t need to be an endemic disease. We can stop the transmission.”
Testing can be a challenge, however. Some patients have anal lesions and genital pain, but testing is done only on visible skin lesions.
As a gay man, Orlando Gonzalez is relieved monkeypox vaccines will now be available in Miami-Dade.
The LGBTQ community is often afraid when outbreaks like monkeypox happen because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, said Gonzalez, executive director of SAVE LGBTQ and vice chair of the county’s LGBTQ advisory board.
“We know for sure that our community was impacted first, but this is not a gay condition,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a condition that impacts everyone.”
Miami Herald AAAS/AMS Mass Media Fellow Anuraag Bukkuri contributed to this report..