SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Thousands tuned in by phone to a virtual town hall on the ongoing monkeypox outbreak, hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. With San Francisco accounting for around 30% of the state's monkeypox cases, Tuesday's panel of doctors and city health administrators tackled a range of concerns, including vaccine shortages and mitigating further spread of the virus.
"The public health threat is accelerating across the country. As of Monday we’ve seen nearly 12,000 confirmed cases in the U.S.," said Pelosi.
So far, California has reported more than 2,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox, with more than 600 of them in San Francisco.
"Sadly we see monkeypox inflicts serious harm among our LGBTQ family and friends, with an outbreak particularly acute among our LGBTQ communities," said Pelosi.
Thousands in the Bay Area, hoping to get the vaccine, were initially met with long lines and vaccine supply shortages over the last few weeks. The San Francisco Department of Public Health reports that those lines have eased of late as more vaccine comes into the Bay Area. But San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer says they still don’t have nearly enough.
"Here we are, three months after ringing the first alarms, and several months after warning that we had an imminent window to get ahead of the spread of monkeypox in San Francisco, and we arrive in a public health state of emergency," said TerMeer. "As of this morning, our waiting list at the foundation's sexual health clinic, known as Magnet, reached 11,788 people."
Last week, San Francisco received an additional 10,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine. U.S. health officials have also authorized a plan to stretch the nation’s limited vaccine supply by giving people one-fifth of the usual dose, after research suggested that the reduced amount was just as effective.
"Our ability to now use a single vial to give multiple people a first dose, that could really change things, so we’re waiting to understand what our next allocation will be," said San Francisco Health Officer, Dr. Susan Philip.
As the Bay Area waits for more doses of the vaccine, several who called into the town hall, raised concerns about how to prevent further spread of the virus.
"I’m curious what your guidance is for ending isolation for patients. It seems to be mixed messages," said one caller.
"Data is evolving as we speak, but essentially we consider someone transmissible with monkeypox virus, from the onset of symptoms, to until after the rash has scabbed off, fallen off, and new skin is underneath," said infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong of UCSF Health.
However, Chin-Hong warns that the virus can still be spread by sex for two to three months after any visible symptoms are gone. During that period, he says anyone who has contracted the virus should still use protection during sex.