Obtaining a monkeypox vaccine in Philadelphia has been a frustrating and, at times, a confusing process, residents report.
Officials from the city’s Department of Public Health hope to streamline access to the vaccines, and make distribution more equitable, with the help of a new online interest form, which went live Friday.
“Philadelphia is receiving more vaccine and more providers can give it, and we hope to start vaccinating more people than ever before and work to contain this outbreak,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole in a statement.
Anyone can get monkeypox, but local outbreaks have so far disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, transgender, and non-binary residents. About 380 cases have been recorded in Philadelphia as of Tuesday, according to the city’s tracking dashboard.
In addition to precautionary measures, the federal government has been distributing a limited supply of vaccines that were originally designed to prevent smallpox, but are safe and effective to use against monkeypox as well.
About 4,856 vaccine doses have been administered to Philadelphians so far, with more than half going to white residents. That’s despite 57 percent of monkeypox cases occurring in Black and African-American people.
Residents can now submit a request for a vaccine through the new online interest form. The request doesn’t guarantee a dose — people will still be evaluated based on risk and equity factors, city officials said.
“We need to deploy as many tools as possible now to prevent death and despair for more individuals and their families,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta in a statement.
Doses overall are still limited, so vaccines continue to be prioritized among gay, bisexual, transgender, other men who have sex with men, and non-binary persons.
Other priority groups include sex workers and people who’ve had skin-to-skin contact with someone with monkeypox in the last 14 days.
People who don’t meet high-risk criteria and who may not be offered a vaccine appointment right away will be put on a waitlist and contacted when more doses become available, or if their risk factors change.
The city announced a new grant program last week in an effort to increase access to monkeypox education, treatment, testing and vaccination, particularly among hard-to-reach groups of people.
The program will grant 10 awards of up to $50,000 each in contracts with community and health provider organizations. Final applications are due Sept. 14.