Thousands of monkeypox vaccines no longer coming to Philly, as city rethinks prevention strategy

The city was supposed to receive more than 3,600 vials, but will instead receive just over 700 vials after the FDA announced a strategy to conserve vaccine doses. (6abc)

The city was supposed to receive more than 3,600 vials, but will instead receive just over 700 vials after the FDA announced a strategy to conserve vaccine doses. (6abc)

Philadelphia officials say thousands of full-dose monkeypox vaccines originally marked for city residents are no longer coming.

Instead, city Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said the federal government has reduced the local allocation to about 720 vials of vaccine, versus the 3,612 that were expected.

“It’s disappointing, because we had hoped to shift to a preventive strategy where we could say to the people who are high risk … before they get exposed, ‘Let’s vaccinate you,’ rather than waiting for people to be exposed,” she said.

More than half of Pennsylvania’s monkeypox cases are occurring in Philadelphia, where demand for vaccines has exceeded availability of doses, much to the frustration of residents.

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Bettigole said this allocation change will delay the city’s plans to expand its vaccine rollout to more people. Currently, most doses are going to residents who’ve had suspected or confirmed monkeypox exposures.

“We have a large, high-risk population that desperately needs and wants this vaccine,” Bettigole said. “We have a local health department that is able and willing to work with community partners to get it into arms. And those two things together mean that we should be getting more vaccine.”

There are 353 recorded cases of monkeypox in Pennsylvania so far, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A public city tracking dashboard shows that 198 of those cases are in Philadelphia.

The city has so far received about 6,445 doses of vaccine. More than 80% of those have already been administered to high-risk residents or distributed to community health providers.

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Philadelphia was set to receive another 3,612 vials of vaccine by the fall, before the supply was cut to 720 vials.

The change in allocation, made by the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, comes on the heels of a new national dosing strategy, which instructs health providers to give an intradermal injection of one-fifth of the full dose to each person.

The idea behind the strategy is to increase the total number of vaccinations. Philadelphia health officials said they thought they’d be doing this with the original allotment of vaccine.

“Our understanding was, great, we can give more doses,” Bettigole said. “It’s a little bit more complicated to do, there’s some additional training for the vaccinators, but thousands more people could get vaccinated. Unfortunately, that’s not where we are right now.”

In discussions with federal agencies earlier this week, Bettigole said it was her understanding that the federal government is reserving the additional vaccine vials for ongoing planning in the U.S. monkeypox outbreak.

A request for comment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

Bettigole said the city department will continue to make its case to federal agencies for more vaccines.

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