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Gay men are lining up as early as 2 a.m. for monkeypox vaccines. Many leave

They wear face masks, and keep a social distance from others, obeying the ground rules from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic — when the desperate need for vaccines far outweighed what federal and state governments could supply.

Many however will leave empty-handed as local hospitals and clinics have had to rely on an inconsistent and insufficient supply of vaccines, a dilemma that has infuriated patients and advocates.

Now should I worry about monkeypox? Our medical analyst explains

San Francisco General opens the clinic doors at 8 a.m. and the line inches forward slowly. The hospital will distribute the available doses until the supply runs out.

For Cody Aarons, 31, it was his third attempt. He stood calmly with more than 100 people already in front of him.

“I was in New York for the past month for work, and I tried with their online portal system and was unsuccessful in getting a vaccine,” said the health care worker who thought he might have a better chance in San Francisco.

But 45 minutes after starting the day’s distribution, a hospital staff member passed by with an announcement. “Folks we have reached our limit for today,” he shouted. “However, we will try to find you more shots.”

Although with no guarantee of getting the monkeypox vaccine that day, Aarons — and just about everyone in line — stayed put.

“People want their vaccine,” said Rafael Mandelman, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “I know one person who was in that line four different days before he finally got his vaccination.”

Mandelman, who got up at 4:30 a.m. and waited for hours before getting his vaccine shot days earlier, is frustrated with the rollout.

A sign reads 'Monkeypox vaccines here' at San Francisco hospital on August 2022.

“After having come through a pandemic where we were able to discover a new vaccine, [and] distribute tens of millions of doses within a matter of months, the fact that with an existing known vaccine we cannot get more than these paltry little dribbles out is very frustrating to people,” he said.

In California, the vast majority of those infected — more than 98% — are men, with more than 91% of patients identifying as LGBTQ. Mandelman feels he and others in the gay community have been left to advocate on their own, without support from the federal government.

Desperate and fearful

For health care workers, the outbreak is a frustrating new chapter after the punishing Covid-19 pandemic.

“At the peak of Covid vaccinations, we averaged 1,400 to 1,500 (doses) a day. So we are completely used to the mass vaccination process,” nurse manager Merjo Roca said.

Staff inside the vaccine unit of San Francisco General Hospital

But Roca and her staff are limited in what they can do given the vaccine shortage.

San Francisco health officials initially requested 35,000 doses, but say they’ve only gotten 12,000 from the federal stockpile. The state of California informed city leaders that San Francisco will receive 10,700 more in the next allotment, yet there’s no clear indication when those doses will arrive or how many will reach San Francisco General Hospital for distribution.

California and Illinois declare states of emergency over monkeypox outbreak

“I think one of our biggest challenges is really just the inconsistency of the supply,” Roca said. “Our vaccine clinic prides itself on being able to help and vaccinate people when they come through our doors. So, it’s super hard for all of our staff not to be able to do that and have to turn people away and not even have information to say when we will get the doses next.”

With many of those in line fearful about monkeypox’s rapid rise in cases, the clinic staff feel an added burden by not being able to deliver for everyone.

“It’s very hard to listen to someone explaining why they want the vaccine and why they need the vaccine and we just don’t have it,” Roca added.

“It was like someone taking a hole-puncher all over my body”

The government argues it acted urgently and with the data. And there are clear differences between the response now and the response to HIV/AIDS. But some advocates say the perceived lack of governmental urgency in addressing a public health crisis that impacts queer communities today mirrors what gay men were experiencing decades ago.

Between October 1980 and May 1981, five young men from across Los Angeles — described by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time as “active homosexuals” — were diagnosed with an unusual lung infection and two of them died.
It was the first time acquired immunodeficiency syndrome — the devastating advanced-stage of HIV infection that would go on to claim the lives of more than 40 million people globally — was first reported in the US.

Exchanges between then-President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary and reporters in 1982 and 1983 indicate that the nation’s top officials and mainstream society viewed the disease as a joke and not an issue of great concern.

That stemmed from the perception of AIDS as a “gay plague” — a condition thought to be tied to the lifestyles and behaviors of gay men — even though cases had also been reported in women, infants, those with hemophilia and people who injected drugs.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: While monkeypox cases rise, why are we waiting for the cavalry to rescue us?

Now, more than 40 years later, the gay community…

Read More: Gay men are lining up as early as 2 a.m. for monkeypox vaccines. Many leave

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