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Addressing monkeypox stigma, vaccine availability for LGBTQ+ community

Monkeypox vaccines are now available in Northeast Ohio as Cleveland currently sits at 19 cases in the city.

CLEVELAND — Across the country, most monkeypox cases have been seen in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly in men who have sexual relations with men. However, health experts are reiterating the fact that the virus, while prevalent in a specific community right now, can impact anyone.

Dr. Amy Edwards, pediatric infectious disease specialist at UH Rainbow and Babies Children's Hospital, says that it's just by luck that the virus — which is endemic to Africa — is currently circulating among men who have sex with men. She added that if the infected person had come into contact with a different community, that's where the virus would be spreading.

"That's what outbreaks do; they have to start somewhere," Edwards told 3News. "In this case, they started in the community of men who have sex with men. It's not going to stay there. In fact, it's already not staying there."

Looking at the virus globally, Edwards says the number of cases in men who have sex with men is already dropping as monkeypox moves into the wider population. Kenyon Farrow, a board member at the LBGT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, told us the center's phones have been ringing as people look for information about the virus and vaccines.

"We don't necessarily have a crystal ball when infectious disease outbreak happens, when and where and in what community it will arrive first," he said. "But there's no such thing as a gay disease. There's no such thing as a disease of senior citizens or of African Americans or of other groups, while groups can certainly be disproportionately impacted."

Farrow urged the community to understand what monkeypox virus is, how it spreads, and how to stay safe.

"While it may impact one community — particularly right now the LGBT community in the United States — but it certainly won’t stay there," he said.

It’s a similar message from Dr. David Margolius, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health.

"Predominantly it's spreading in the sexual network of gay men, but could jump into any other network at any point," he explained. "We are focus[ing] our vaccine, our prevention efforts, on that community, and hopefully we get more and more vaccines as the weeks come."

In terms of vaccinations, Cuyahoga County Board of Health communications officer Kevin Brennan says the organization has received 1,200 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, which officials has allocated to a number of groups.

"We are currently supplying vaccines to our three major health centers — Cleveland Clinic Foundation, University Hospitals, and MetroHealth," Brennan said. "We are also providing doses to a provider who specializes in treating LGBTQ population known as Central Outreach, and then we have a handful of doses that we've kept for ourselves at the board of health in the event that we would need to administer them. Our role in this primarily is to act as a conduit for other institutions to be able to provide the vaccine."

Now that vaccines are being distributed, Brennan says the board is working on public education materials and planning meetings with partners to get more information out about prevention and mitigation.

"I'm pretty confident that by the end of this week, the doses should be in the hands of everyone who needs them in terms of the providers we're engaging," Brennan claimed.

Farrow added that the LGBT Center will be working with partner MetroHealth to set up vaccine availability at the facility, as well as at other locations through MetroHealth, very soon. 3News also reached out to Central Outreach, who confirmed they are currently administering vaccines.

   

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