Moneypox vaccinations in San Francisco kick into high gear as more doses become available

Monkeypox vaccinations in San Francisco shifted into high gear on Tuesday where the city began to distribute approximately 10,000 doses it received from the federal government.

"Too many people are suffering in our communities," said a speaker to monkeypox advocates. "They are begging for relief."

As of Tuesday, the city reported 501 probable and confirmed cases of monkeypox; 1,310 cases statewide.

Vaccine seekers were lined up around the block at San Francisco General Hospital Tuesday morning to get the shot.

The city said it doesn't know how long the new supply will last as the week wears on. San Francisco Department of Public Health reported the hospital walk-in clinic administered 750 doses on Tuesday.

"I'm a little worried. I have to go into work later this morning. I told my manager 'Hey, I'm getting my vaccine in the morning,' but I didn't know the line would be this long," said vaccine seeker Chris Leechock.

"It kind of came out of nowhere. So, I'm glad they're doing something now to get a lot of doses. This is my first attempt to get a shot so, here we are," said another vaccine seeker.

Among those prioritized are men or trans people who have had sex with more than one sexual partner in the last two weeks, and who haven't received their first dose. Others who are now eligible for the two-dose Jynneos vaccine include, any sex workers of any sexual orientation and people who have had close contact with someone with either a suspected or confirmed case of monkeypox in the last two weeks. Other groups eligible for the vaccine are people who were notified by a venue of a potential exposure in the last two weeks and lab workers or clinicians who have performed monkeypox testing or who have handled specimens. 

Experts say there are two things potential patients can curb the spread, including self-restraint. 

"Understand what they're doing, what they can do to prevent getting infected, and that we can hopefully get vaccines in their arms to prevent them from getting the disease," said UC Berkeley infectious disease expert Dr. John Swartzberg.

"I'm just glad that we live where we do so we can get the vaccine now or at least many of us, hopefully, more very soon," said Darin Allan who stood last in line.

In Sacramento, the Senate Select Committee On Monkeypox Oversight met and said, "Over 1,300 cases here in California. About 2% of those are hospitalized, and we have seen our first few pediatric cases and our first few female cases."

"Monkeypox is a public health emergency, and we need to do everything we can to contain the outbreak," State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco said in a statement. "Monkeypox is a painful and serious infection, and no one should have to endure it. We need to ensure California's response, at both the state and local level, is effective and adequately funded. Our community is depending on us to deliver." 

Many testifying said due to strict rules and red tape, treating patients takes far too long.

"He has to spend, two hours filling out paperwork and jumping through hoops with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], to get permission to give these pills to the person suffering that could take days," said Wiener, chairman of the committee. 

SEE ALSO: San Francisco sheriff's office isolating jail inmate with suspected case of monkeypox

Officials said the State of California has received about 109,000 doses of the vaccine. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized smaller doses of the vaccine to stretch the current limited supply. People can now receive a shot with 20% of the usual dose and still be vaccinated against monkeypox. The new injection approach calls for administering the shot just under the skin rather than into deeper tissue. People would still get two shots spaced four weeks apart. 

Wiener believes the federal government could have done more to keep up its stockpile of the Jynneos vaccine, a smallpox vaccine that's proven to be effective for monkeypox. Over 20 million vaccine doses expired without replacement, he said at Tuesday's meeting. 

"You would think that would be a recipe for very quickly controlling an outbreak. Unfortunately, due to some very severe public health failures over a number of years and three different presidential administrations, that has not happened and we have shot ourselves in the foot," he said.

San Francisco makes up 36% of all monkeypox diagnoses in California, according to Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health for the City and County of San Francisco. 

Though in the wake of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, monkeypox is not a new disease, and it's rarely deadly. But it can cause severe pain, scarring and hospitalization, said health care workers sharing their experiences at the meeting. 

Many patients are experiencing fever, malaise, muscle aches, and a pox-like rash with fluid-filled vesicles on the skin, said Vivek Jain, associate professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at University of California San Francisco. Eventually the lesions heal and the rash will crust over, but the process can take weeks, he said. 

"Many patients have many lesions, and some of our patients are unfortunately experiencing very severe pain in the throat and the pharynx, or at the rectum and the genitals," Jain said. "This is truly causing a tremendous degree of suffering, including difficulty with eating or drinking fluids and very severe difficulties with having bowel movements." 

Jain says California can do four things to improve its response to the monkeypox epidemic - fund front-end clinical locations like urgent care centers, STD clinics and emergency departments, make access to medicine easier for patients, provide more research on how to test and treat monkeypox, and provide patients temporary places to stay to get better. 

LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like the San Francisco Aids Foundation are also stepping in to amplify and disseminate vital information - both to prevent the spread of the virus and its stigma. CEO Tyler TerMeer wants to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community does not experience same discrimination it faced amid the AIDS crisis in the '80s. 

"For two and a half years our public health systems have been developing, improving and self-healing to combat the worst global pandemic in a century," said TerMeer. "And yet, when confronted with the new outbreak in May of this year, federal health agencies failed to treat this threat with the urgency and commitment that it clearly demanded." 

TerMeer pointed the finger at a combination of "misjudgment, mismanagement and miscommunication" that left state and local health agencies without the resources that they needed to adequately prepare and respond. 

The city has already administered close to 12,000 vaccine doses, and it has the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people a day at over 15 vaccination sites. But in order to fully vaccinate individuals considered to be high-risk, the city will need about 150,000 vaccines, said Colfax. 

The Monkeypox Clinic at SF General will be open every day this week from 8 a.m. through noon with extended hours on Saturday from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Sutter Health, Kaiser and UCSF are offering the vaccine through appointments. 

Bay City News Foundation's Olivia Wynkoop contributed to this report.