Last week’s announcement declaring monkeypox a national public health emergency may get more vaccines to more people sooner than expected. But don’t expect widespread availability for quite awhile, area health officials say.
“This is about trying to get more vaccines produced and distributed to jurisdictions that need it,” said Nathan Koffarnus, assistant bureau chief for the bureau of communicable disease and prevention within the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The declaration also requires hospitals to report more monkeypox data.
Getting more vaccines to the state, “would have a big effect,” Koffarnus said.
“Fortunately, we already have a vaccine, that if given within the first one to four days after exposure can completely prevent a person getting monkeypox, and even if given between four to 14 days can reduce the severity of disease,” said Dr. Rex Archer, director of population and public health at Kansas City University. Archer is the former director of the Kansas City health department who helped lead the city through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is limiting who can get vaccinated in the country because of such a limited supply of available vaccines, and restrictions at the state level in Kansas and Missouri are even more strict because of the small vaccine supplies granted to the states.
The Kansas City Health Department is working with state health officials to get more doses here, which will be distributed throughout northwest Missouri.
And when the next shipment arrives, city health officials say they will expand their eligibility requirements for who can get vaccinated to include high risk groups, including men who are intimate with men, a group that has been disproportionately affected by the virus during this outbreak.
Kansas currently is only providing vaccines to individuals it contacts directly in connection with existing cases.
Local public health officials say your risk of getting monkeypox in public is very low around Kansas City for now because case numbers are still low, and because it is much less contagious in public settings than a virus like COVID-19.
But, since the disease is spreading and numbers are increasing rapidly by the day around the country, health officials are encouraging people to stay informed.
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What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral disease that can cause a skin rash, weakness, fatigue, fever and flu-like symptoms. It is named after the skin lesions it can cause, which often look like pimples or blisters. It can be extremely painful but is usually not deadly.
Monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted disease, and it can spread through many types of physical contact, not just sex.
Monkeypox has been around for a long time. That means this is a recent outbreak, not a new disease.
The first outbreak of monkeypox in the United States, in 2003, affected six Midwestern states, including Kansas and Missouri, when people became sick after coming in contact with pet prairie dogs that had been infected by animals imported from Africa. The current outbreak is also linked to Africa, where monkeypox is endemic in about a dozen countries, and then traveled to Europe and the U.S.
How many monkeypox cases are in the Kansas City area?
As of Wednesday, the CDC lists 17 cases of monkeypox in Missouri and two cases in Kansas. More than 9,400 cases have been reported nationwide as of Wednesday, and hundreds of new cases are being reported each day.
Four of these cases were reported in Kansas City, according to the Kansas City Health Department. The patients are not linked to each other and had all traveled outside Kansas City before contracting the virus, according to Michelle Pekarsky, a spokesperson for the health department.
Who is monkeypox affecting?
Monkeypox can infect anyone of any gender or sexual identity, and public health officials are reminding people that anyone can catch the virus.
But so far during this outbreak, monkeypox is disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men and their social networks, and people in these communities are the first eligible for the limited supply of vaccines.
According to the CDC, 99% of cases in the U.S. have occurred in men, 94% of whom reported recent male-to-male sexual or close intimate contact. However, the disease is not exclusive to any one community, and anyone can catch it from any type of skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
“This particular outbreak is disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ community and in particular gay men, but it just so happens that this is the community that is having the current outbreak…as we know there’s no such thing as a gay disease or a straight disease. There are just diseases,” said Dr. Ryan Cox, program manager at University Health LGBTQ Specialty Clinic.
“Monkeypox has inaccurately been seen as a virus impacting only the LGBT community,” said Archer, explaining that past outbreaks have affected different groups, that this outbreak can spread to anyone and in ways other than sex.
“It is clear there are cases of kissing, touching lesions, and even surfaces and clothing which have spread the disease,” he said. “Children have been diagnosed with monkeypox. Mammals can be infected.”
The Star also reached out to the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, a nonprofit resource center that serves the city’s LGBTQ community, who recommended we talk with health care providers at KC Care, a health clinic that serves LGBTQ Kansas Citians and Kansas Citians with HIV.
“Data across the globe states that a man having sex with men is the highest at-risk population for monkeypox right now, so making sure that vaccines are available for that at-risk population is paramount to stopping the spread,” said Wes Warner, a prevention specialist at KC Care.
Cox said that some of his patients at University Health’s LGBTQ clinic are concerned about how and when they will be able to access vaccines.
How many vaccines are in Kansas City?
The Kansas City Health Department was sent 900 vaccines in July, and the department is expecting 900 more vaccines within the next week. The health department was given a green light to use half of those vaccines on people who don’t have a known-exposure but are at high risk for the virus, according to the Kansas City Health Department.
“We are advocating for the people concerned and frightened because they are at high risk,” Pekarsky said in a statement.
Who can get vaccinated for monkeypox in Kansas City?
If you have been exposed to someone suspected or confirmed of having monkeypox, “you should call your local health department for advice on potential prevention and early treatment options,” said Archer. The guidelines around who is eligible are in flux.
For now, the vaccine supply is more limited than many Kansas City area health officials would like.
The only people eligible for vaccines in northwest Missouri are people who have been exposed within the last 14 days but do not yet have symptoms. You have to talk with your health care provider or your local health department in order to see if you qualify.
However, when the city gets its next shipment of vaccines in, the health department is expanding who is eligible, at least for half of those doses.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which identified a probable case of monkeypox in Shawnee County this week, is currently restricting access to the vaccine and will expand eligibility as additional doses become available.
“With the vaccine supply extremely limited in the United States, residents who have not been contacted by KDHE or clinic partners are not able to be vaccinated at this time,” the Kansas department said in a statement.
What will Kansas City’s new vaccine eligibility requirements be?
The new vaccine eligibility for a portion of Kansas City and Northwest Missouri’s vaccine supply will include people who don’t have a known-exposure but are at high risk for the virus, according to the Kansas City Health Department.
The communities considered high-risk include:
Men who are intimate with men
Transgender men or women who have had 2 or more same-sex sexual partners in last 14 days
People who have engaged in a social and/or sexual venue in last 14 days
People who have given or received money or other goods/service in exchange for sex in last 14 days or have engaged in survival/work sex
Are more vaccines on the way?
Yes. The Kansas City Health Department was sent 900 vaccines in July, and the department is expecting 900 more vaccines soon.
Pekarsky from the city health department said it is also waiting for approval to try a vaccination method called “dose sparing,” which will also allow the department to vaccinate five times as many people by using a small dose of the vaccine for each patient.
Doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine—the preferred, two-dose vaccine for monkeypox protection—are being allocated to states and territories based on the number of reported monkeypox cases and number of at-risk residents in each state.
Missouri health officials said they initially ordered 2,413 doses—100% of their allocation—and distributed them across the state.
In late July they were told they could order more, and some of that allocation was expected to arrive this week. They will place another order on Aug. 15, and the rest of their allocation will depend on the status of the outbreak in the state and vaccine administration, state health officials told The Star.
Vaccine data was unavailable from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
At the federal level, the U.S. is getting 150,000 more doses for its national stockpile in September, according to DHHS. Here’s a breakdown of how current vaccine doses have been distributed around the country so far.
What are local public health authorities outside of KCMO doing to respond?
Beyond the Kansas City Health Department, local health departments are now responding to the public health emergency by educating the public and monitoring the spread of the disease. Responses may change in the coming days and weeks, and we’ll continue reporting on that.
Jackson County: Although there are no cases in eastern Jackson County, Mariah Cox, a spokesperson for the county health department, said it is ready to test and support those who might be at risk of contracting the virus.
Johnson County: One case has been reported so far in Johnson County, and local health officials said they’ll push to educate residents about the risk of the virus.
“For the public, this means they need to be aware that a threat to public health exists and what they can do to lessen or prevent any impact to them,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Wyandotte County: No cases have been identified. And only people with known exposure “and who are contacted by KDHE or a KDHE clinical partner are able to receive a monkeypox vaccination at this time,” said health department spokeswoman Janell Friesen.
Clay County: The Clay County Public Health Center recently added a monkeypox information page to its website as well, said spokeswoman Kelsey Neth. “It not only has info about the disease but also info regarding how we’re offering testing and vaccination,” she said. “This should be a good resource for our residents.
“We’ll also be sharing monkeypox information on our social media channels over the next few weeks at least.”
How to get tested for monkeypox around Kansas City
If you have a new or unexplained rash or other monkeypox symptoms, you could be eligible for a test.
There are two ways to get tested for monkeypox: through your local health department, or through a private lab. Local health officials also recommend contacting your health care provider.
“We have a lot of testing capacity, both in the state and nationwide, that’s not heavily tapped in yet,” said Koffarnus with the Missouri health department, adding that treatments for the virus are available as well. “If somebody has a concerning rash or something, we would encourage them to see their provider and potentially get tested.”
If you call your local health department or health care provider, they can help you schedule an appointment to collect a sample of fluid from a lesion on your body.
A spokesperson from the Kansas health department told The Star that “testing cannot be done until an individual develops rash-like symptoms.”
Kansas City Health Department number for communicable disease and prevention: 816-513-6152
Jackson County Health Department: 816-404-6415
Clay County Health Department: 816-595-4200
Platte County Health Department: 816-858-2412
Johnson County Health Department: 913-715-2819
Wyandotte County Health Department: 913-573-8855
The Kansas health department’s Phone Bank is available to answer general questions about monkeypox. Call 866-534-3463, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. More information about monkeypox can be found on the KDHE monkeypox webpage.
If you have been exposed to monkeypox or have a positive test, the CDC recommends isolating at home to prevent spreading the disease to others. Isolation should last until all skin lesions or rashes have healed completely. If you aren’t sure how long to isolate, contact your local health department for further guidance.
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