Scarcity of monkeypox vaccine in Louisiana a concern ahead of Southern Decadence

‘Orleans Parish is the epicenter for the cases in the state,’ said Dr. Brobson Lutz
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 10:03 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - With Louisiana poised to receive an additional 7,200 doses of the monkeypox vaccine in coming weeks, health experts are concerned the state has not received a sufficient amount.

Louisiana has a population of 4.66 million, according to recent census data. In 2015, Gallup polling showed around 3.7 percent of the state’s population identified as LGBT. If the same trend held true to the 2020 Census, roughly 172,000 Louisianans would identify as LGBT.

The currently recommended regimen for inoculating against monkeypox requires two shots of the vaccine. No matter which way you slice it, 7,200 doses won’t come close to inoculating the majority of the group most susceptible to monkeypox: gay men.

“Orleans Parish-area is the epicenter for the cases in the state,” said Dr. Brobson Lutz, former health director for the City of New Orleans. “The stockpile of the vaccine, in the United States, was extremely low. Maybe 2,000 or 3,000 doses of it were available initially.”

New Orleans has a large and vibrant gay community, supporting major celebrations such as New Orleans Pride in June and Southern Decadence, which takes place over Labor Day weekend in September.

“I cannot think of a better city to position a vaccine rollout than New Orleans, with Decadence coming,” Lutz said. “It’s the perfect situation where you’ve got a large number of gay men coming together, who are likely to be in close personal contact. It’s the ideal setting to transmit it, but it’s also the ideal setting to get people immunized.”

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) said 1,200 people in the New Orleans area have been inoculated so far.

“As a state, we have very limited allocation. Allocation is based upon the percentage of the population that actually has been infected with monkeypox,” said Shantel Hebert-Magee, Regional Medical Director for LDH Region 1, which includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes.

“We’re not holding doses to ensure we are going to be able to vaccinate individuals within a 28-day window. We want to ensure we are providing as many people as possible with protection in order to minimize the spread.”

Hebert-Magee said LDH has been in contact with the organizers of Decadence, and the hope is to get as many people immunized as possible before the event.

“I think what we should be doing, and we are doing, is to ensure there’s visibility on where individuals can get access to vaccine if they fall within one of our high-risk population groups,” she said.

For a full list of vaccine providers, click here.

Symptoms of monkeypox include swollen lymph nodes, bumps and rashes, lesions, and flu-like symptoms, including fever. It is most often spread through skin-to-skin contact, as well as contact with clothing, bedding, and respiratory droplets passed on through prolonged face-to-face contact, kissing and cuddling.

Lutz said the federal response to monkeypox reminds him of the government’s response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

“With public health, everybody says somebody else is going to take care of it. Cities say the state’s gonna take care of it. The state says the federal government is responsible for it. Nobody’s claiming public health anymore in the United States,” he said. “That’s not good.”

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