Health officials racing to stay ahead of a possible Mpox resurgence

Health leaders are concerned about an Mpox outbreak as people gather for spring and summer festivals and other events.

In Provincetown, which is gearing up for thousands to visit for a celebration of LGBTQ rights and culture during Pride weekend June 2, the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod is readying free, pop-up Mpox vaccination clinics downtown along busy Commercial Street.

AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod’s graphic for social media and around Provincetown (where it is based) for pop-up Mpox vaccination clinics.AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod

At Fenway Health in Boston, administrators Thursday finalized a new social media campaign urging people in the gay, bisexual, and transgender community to get vaccinated.

“Vaccinated people are 10 times less likely to get Mpox,” reads one of Fenway’s new social media messages.

Although anyone can contract Mpox, the virus has predominantly spread in communities of men who have sex with men, and typically is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Symptoms include a blistering rash that can be quite painful on people’s hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth or near the genitals. The rash is often accompanied by fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. Most patients have mild disease, although some, particularly those with advanced or untreated HIV infection, may experience more severe outcomes.

“Last spring and summer there wasn’t enough vaccine, and it was too difficult to get a vaccine, to get a test, and access to treatment,” said Sean Cahill, director of health policy research at the Fenway Institute.“The good news is we are much better prepared now than we were a year ago.”

Most of Fenway’s patients come from the Boston area, but a lot of transgender patients and patients with HIV travel longer distances from rural areas because such culturally sensitive care doesn’t exist near them, Cahill said.

Fenway Health launched a new social media campaign to educate people about a potential resurgence of Mpox and urge them to get vaccinated. Fenway Health

A global outbreak of Mpox erupted last May, and at least 30,400 cases have been reported since then in the United States, including 42 deaths, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. Cases peaked last August with about 460 reported a day and gradually declined, the CDC said, likely because of temporary changes in sexual behavior, vaccination, and infection-induced immunity.

But federal health officials are worried because, they say, that while at least 1.2 million people nationwide have received at least one dose of the two-shot regimen of the JYNNEOS vaccine only about a quarterof the people thought to be at risk for Mpox infection have been vaccinated.

“The data also show that there is a wide variation in vaccine rates by jurisdiction,” Dr. Christopher Braden, CDC’s Mpox response incident manager, said at a press briefing on Thursday. “The chances of new outbreaks go up when few people are vaccinated.”

Three studies of the Mpox vaccine’s effectiveness released this past week estimate vaccine effectiveness ranges from 36percent to 75 percent for those who received just one dose, and between 66 percent and 86 percent for both doses.

Those findings, health officials said, reinforce the importance for people to get both shots.

“Do it for yourself, do it for the community,” said Dan Gates, chief executive of the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod.

The organization is planning vaccination clinics throughout the summer, especially as crowds descend on Provincetown, long a haven for the gender-diverse community, for July 4th celebrations and August Carnival.

With so many out-of-towners expected, the organization is not limiting the free shots to state residents.

“You can be from any state in the country,” Gates said. “we do not require ID to receive any of our services.”

There are also at least two dozen sites across Massachusetts offering the Mpox vaccine, including several community health centers and academic medical centers.

While Massachusetts typically achieves higher rates of vaccination than other regions of the country for many infectious diseases, health leaders said they, like their counterparts in other states, are struggling to achieve equitable access to the Mpox shots.

“We are working with multicultural AIDS coalitions to make sure everyone has access to the vaccine and it’s not just gay white men,” said Fenway Institute’s Cahill. “If you look at the prevalence data, its Black, Latino, Native Hawaiian, and other Native Pacific Islanders disproportionately affected and vulnerable to Mpox. So we want to make sure everyone can access it.”

State Senator Julian Cyr, a Cape Cod native who represents Provincetown, noted that the local community reacted quickly in the summer of 2021 when massive July 4th celebrations sparked a COVID outbreak fueled by the Delta variant. Community leaders instantly alerted state health officials, and they worked closely to notify those who might have been exposed to COVID.

With memories of that outbreak still fresh, the community last summer went into overdrive, holding Mpox education and vaccination clinics before the holidays.

“We have a playbook that worked quite well with Delta and arguably had one of the best responses in the country with Mpox last summer,” Cyr said.

“But the health equity aspect of Mpox is what I am concerned about,” he said. “We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and be very deliberate to make sure we are reaching everyone in the LGBTQ community and people of color.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

2023-05-21 18:33:00