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Monkeypox vaccine demand slows as Utah’s case count rises to 89

A registered nurse prepares a dose of a Monkeypox vaccine at the Salt Lake County Health Department Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer
A registered nurse prepares a dose of a Monkeypox vaccine at the Salt Lake County Health Department Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

The monkeypox virus has predominantly impacted queer populations, specifically gay men, or men who have sex with men according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

“Here in Utah, they've [monkeypox cases] all kind of been related some way or another to the men who have sex with men community,” said Jake Tant, the overseer of the department’s monkeypox vaccine distribution.

Since May, Utah has detected 89 confirmed or probable cases of monkeypox. The virus is primarily transmitted through close or intimate contact and leaves a pimple-like rash on the skin.

The infection usually lasts between two to four weeks and carriers are contagious the entire time symptoms or wounds are present.

The Biden administration declared monkeypox a national public health emergency in early August. They did so in order to free up federal funds to bolster the vaccine supply.

When the monkeypox vaccine was first administered back in July, supply was very low — not just statewide but globally.

Up until recently, there was only one monkeypox vaccine manufacturer that was located in Denmark. With the national declaration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved a U.S. manufacturer to begin producing monkeypox vaccines.

Now, Tant said Utah is getting a more consistent supply of monkeypox vaccines and the amount is enough to meet demand. Because of this, Tant said there’s been a decrease in the number of people seeking immunization.

And while anyone can catch monkeypox, it’s still been transmitting within the queer community. For that reason, the state hasn’t yet opened up eligibility to other populations.

“We're providing vaccines to this group, really trying to protect them, number one,” Tant said. “And number two, trying to contain this outbreak before it gets any bigger.”

Slater Areno identifies as a gay man in Salt Lake City. While he was concerned about monkeypox, he didn’t consider himself at high risk for catching the illness. It wasn’t until his friend contracted monkeypox that Areno became more proactive about his vaccination.

“I actually had a couple friends get it and one of them didn't get it through sexual contact way,” Areno said. “He's not entirely sure, but he thinks he wore a shirt that someone put on when they had monkeypox.”

The virus can spread through soft surfaces, like blankets and clothing. But there’s zero evidence of monkeypox spreading through hard surfaces like countertops and tables, said Nicholas Rupp with the Salt Lake County Health Department.

To protect himself and others, Areno started to look for a monkeypox vaccine but noticed they were initially hard to come by. He said he couldn’t find a vaccine within a 100-mile radius of his home. So, Areno was more cautious about his personal actions until he was able to track a vaccine dose down in Salt Lake.

“I held off on any kind of close skin-to-skin contact that could harbor that [monkeypox] while I was looking for it,” he said.

Areno has since received the monkeypox vaccine.

Tant said the state health department is monitoring monkeypox transmission globally and will update the vaccine eligibility if and when other populations become susceptible.

In the meantime, a second dose of the monkeypox vaccine is recommended 28 days after the first vaccine. Salt Lake County has already begun administering second shots.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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