Philadelphia calling for proposals to expand monkeypox vaccine outreach

A close-up of a nurse injecting a syringe, filled with a vaccine, into a patient's arm.

File photo: A nurse administers a monkeypox vaccine at a walk-in clinic at the North Jersey Community Research Initiative in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Despite more than half of Philadelphia’s monkeypox cases occurring in Black residents, only about a quarter of vaccines are being administered to Black people, according to the city’s Department of Public Health.

The city is now trying to change that disparity. The health department announced Thursday that it is calling for proposals to “expand monkeypox vaccination services and related outreach activities for populations who are at high risk” for the disease.

The city says it expects to award 10 grants of up to $50,000 each.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“By working with partners who know this community best, we hope to get more vulnerable populations vaccinated and then communicate the importance of getting vaccinated,” Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Frank Franklin said in a press release.

There are three separate tracks that applicants can apply for: monkeypox vaccine services; collaboration to support those services; and community engagement.

Specific objectives of the request for proposals are to:

  1. Build an equitable and accessible monkeypox vaccination network across the city of Philadelphia that serves people who are at high risk for infection, particularly persons in under-vaccinated demographic groups.
  2. Create vaccine access points in geographic areas and for communities that are at high risk for monkeypox from under-vaccinated demographic groups.
  3. Direct monkeypox vaccination outreach to Philadelphia residents who are at high risk for monkeypox but may be harder to reach.

Monkeypox — which is spread through close, intimate contact — is still overwhelmingly impacting men who have sex with men. Some Philadelphia residents and health providers have been critical of what they say has been a slow — and inequitable — response from city officials to contain the outbreak.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

As of Aug. 29, there have been 329 cases in Philadelphia, the majority among Black residents (55%) who are 30 to 39 (44%). The city has administered 4,569 doses of vaccine — primarily to white patients (56%).

Currently, the health department is prioritizing the vaccine for high-risk individuals who have had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the disease. If a person is exposed to someone with monkeypox, they should call the health department at 215-685-5488. A small group of clinics — including the Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia FIGHT, Penn Presbyterian Hospital, the Drexel Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice, and Penn Medicine — are also offering the vaccine to existing patients who are considered high-risk on an “invitation only” basis.

Philadelphia has received 3,305 JYNNEOS vaccine vials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to a release, vaccines will be distributed in three phases between Aug. 22 and Sept. 30, with the department getting about 1,100 shots in each shipment. The second portion will be ordered once 85% of the doses have been administered.

While the deputy health commissioner said in Thursday’s release that the grant program is “intended to align with all of the great work already happening in the community,” the city has a complicated history related to vaccine equity and working with community partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January 2021, Philadelphia Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson resigned after officials learned she’d given extra help to Philly Fighting COVID as the disgraced group was applying for a city contract to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The revelation fueled existing suspicions among some residents that the city’s RFP process is rigorous, complex, and unfair to minority applicants.

Stephanie Tipton, chief administrative officer for Philadelphia, told WHYY News last year that the city has an open and transparent process for choosing contractors, which is why contracts must be renewed every few years, and applicants can ask questions of city departments that are then posted publicly.

Interested applicants can learn more about the monkeypox vaccination expansion program at the City of Philadelphia’s website. Proposals should be submitted through this application, and questions should be directed to healthresponse@phila.gov.

Proposals are due Sept. 14. Final grant decisions will be made by the end of the month.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal