Wolf administration explores using federal aid to help stretch Pa.’s limited monkeypox vaccine supply

A nurse holds a vial containing the monkeypox vaccine

A nurse holds a vial containing the monkeypox vaccine at a vaccination clinic. (Nell Redmond/AP)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

As more cases of monkeypox are reported across Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is pursuing the use of federal dollars to help stretch the state’s limited vaccine supply.

Speaking after a news conference last week, the Democrat said that his administration is considering buying a “different kind of needle for the vaccine,” and is also exploring whether federal money can be used on blood tests for the virus.

“We know that we have that need right now,” Wolf told Spotlight PA. “We want to make sure we can use that money legally, and if we can, it’s just a matter of how far we can use it.”

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To conserve the limited vaccine supply, the Food and Drug Administration has given health care providers emergency approval to administer shots between the skin, rather than under it. That allows providers to get five doses out of a one-dose vial.

Such a shot requires a specific type of syringe, which the state may purchase, Wolf spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer said in an email.

“We’re still exploring where the need is, so this ‘could’ be a potential use of the funding,” she said.

Rementer said Pennsylvania has received the go-ahead from the federal government to use federal money sent directly to state agencies “via formula or federal directives” to address monkeypox.

As of last week, the commonwealth was still seeking further guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury on the limits of that spending. The U.S. Treasury did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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As of Aug. 24, more than 440 cases of monkeypox had been reported in Pennsylvania, according to federal data. More than half of reported cases — 257 — are in Philadelphia, according to the city’s data. Other parts of the state, including Pittsburgh and State College, have also reported cases.

The virus, which spreads through extended close personal contact, can lead to rashes as well as respiratory symptoms, per the CDC.

The federal government has allocated nearly 18,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine to Pennsylvania and another 8,390 to Philadelphia specifically, according to federal data.

Of those, about 18,000 have been shipped to the state as of Aug. 19.

Sultan Shakir, executive director of the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ health clinic in Philadelphia, said his top priority is access to more vaccines.

However, facing a nationwide shortage of monkeypox shots, Shakir said that the best use of government resources would be to help cover the clinic’s rising personnel costs.

Individuals at risk for monkeypox, which can be spread during sex, may not regularly go to a doctor or other health clinics. Reaching people including sex workers, Shakir said, requires sending health workers out in the evening or on weekends, for instance, to talk about the vaccine.

“We know it spreads in communities,” Shakir said. “And so if it is spreading in a population that doesn’t normally come into the center, we do need personnel resources to send people out to go engage those communities.”

Spotlight PA logoSpotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media.

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