SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – At least one LGBTQ group is planning a demonstration outside the San Francisco office of the United States Department of Health and Human Services to demand the Biden administration “step up supply distribution of the monkeypox vaccine.”

The Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club is planning the protest for noontime Monday at the San Francisco Federal Building at 90 7th Street.

The move comes after local elected officials, gay community leaders and public health advocates blasted the federal government for its response to the outbreak, of which there are 68 confirmed cases in San Francisco as of early Thursday.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro neighborhood on the city’s board of supervisors, called the administration’s goal of vaccinating two million of the estimated 5.9 million Americans who are gay and bisexual men and trans people by the end of 2023 is “abysmal” earlier this week, and suggested that the federal government would be more responsive if infections had not thus far primarily impacted men who have sex with men.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced it is running low on vaccine supply and does not know when it will receive more.

A hearing will be held at the board of supervisors’ government audit and oversight committee July 21 covering the city’s response to the virus, “including public education and outreach on how best to avoid contracting and spreading the virus, efforts to vaccinate at-risk groups against monkeypox, and coordination with the California Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control,” according to the office of District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents Haight-Ashbury and the Tenderloin on the board. The hearing was requested by Mandelman.

Similarities, differences between monkeypox and COVID, AIDS responses

Community leaders have evoked past slow federal responses to emerging health crises, such as COVID-19 and AIDS. For example, District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents the south of Market neighborhood on the board and who is HIV-positive, stated Tuesday that “our queer, BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] and HIV-positive residents know all too well the impacts of misguided, lax, or slow-moving public health responses. Coming out of COVID, we have all the tools we need to successfully provide a swift and targeted response to reduce the spread of the monkeypox virus.”

Alice club co-chair Gary McCoy said there are differences and similarities between the current monkeypox outbreak and the epidemic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, both in terms of the pace of the federal response and the politicization and weaponization of the virus.

“The difference here is that we have a vaccine for prevention and the infrastructure to get it out,” McCoy said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

In the statement via Facebook announcing the protest, the Alice club brought up another parallel: stigmatization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community on account of fear and prejudice.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 11: Cleve Jones (L) founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, speaks before the AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed on the lawn at Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park on June 11, 2022 in San Francisco, California. The National AIDS Memorial is marking the 35th anniversary of the AIDS Memorial Quilt with more than 3,000 panels of the Quilt being displayed in Golden Gate Park. It is the largest display of the Quilt in San Francisco history. The Quilt will be on display on June 11th and 12th. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Monkeypox is not exclusive to our LGBTQ+ community, but we are already being blamed for the emerging crisis,” the statement reads. “We’re being told to limit contact with people, or just wear condoms. People aren’t educated in that *anyone* can transmit MP, as simple as skin to skin contact.”

When asked about parallels between AIDS and monkeypox, Cleve Jones, a longtime LGBTQ rights and AIDS activist who founded the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the 1980s to memorialize those lost, told KRON4 that “one has to be very cautious about drawing direct lines between different diseases, but yeah — they [the federal government] have come up short thus far and it’s unfortunate that we are in this position where we must wait a considerable amount of time for the vaccine.”

On the one hand, the monkeypox outbreak differs from the early AIDS epidemic because “it’s not fatal [and] it’s more casually transmitted,” Jones said. On the other hand, “an unfortunate similarity is that it’s being tagged as a ‘gay disease,’ which will not be helpful moving forward. An important difference — and a good thing — is that we know a lot about this disease, we know its history, we aren’t starting from zero.”

London Breed
Mayor London Breed speaks outside City Hall in San Francisco. (AP Photo / Eric Risberg, File)

SF mayor mostly mum on outbreak

Mandelman, Dorsey, and state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who have been among the most outspoken on the outbreak, are also gay, but straight politicians have not been completely silent for the most part.

The office Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who represents most of the city in the U.S. House of Representatives, issued a lengthy “what you need to know” email July 8.

“San Franciscans are far too familiar with the fear and confusion of a new disease outbreak that disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community,” Pelosi stated. “As your representative in Congress, I am fighting to secure more resources to bolster monkeypox testing and expand vaccine capacity so that anyone who qualifies can easily and quickly get their shot.”

The Alice club, in a tweet Wednesday, tagged San Francisco Mayor London Breed and members of the board of supervisors, saying “the silence from our allies isn’t helping our community.” “Where are you,” the tweet asks. While most of the members of the board who were tagged responded, Breed has not.

Breed’s office has also not answered multiple inquiries from KRON4 as to whether she will make a public statement on the city running out of monkeypox vaccines. The office’s website also contains no news releases about the outbreak. (Her Twitter account does include three retweets from the department of public health within the past week on the crisis, however, on July 7, July 8 and July 13.)

President Joe Biden addressed the outbreak publicly in May, when he said “we’re working on it hard to figure out what we do and what vaccine, if any, might be available for it.” The White House has not responded to a question asking when he will be addressing it again, but did provide comment for this story after it was initially published, through an HHS spokesperson.

“We have made approximately 200,000 doses of JYNNEOS available to states and jurisdictions as quickly and equitably as possible. As of July 12, we have shipped more than 132,000 doses nationwide, including nearly 27,000 to California. The state determines how to distribute vaccine within their jurisdiction,” the spokesperson stated. “We are in the process of receiving additional doses from our supplier, which we will make available to states and jurisdictions soon. Approximately 780,000 doses (filled and finished) are currently at the supplier in Denmark. Those doses will be delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile pending approval from the FDA.”

Indeed, the FDA reports that the required on-site inspection at the Danish facility prerequisite to the doses being shipped to the U.S. has now happened, and vaccines should be shipping to the U.S. again soon.

“As a part of our comprehensive response to monkeypox, we are communicating regularly with community leaders, health care providers, and stakeholders in high-risk communities to raise awareness of the steps people can take to prevent monkeypox, as we continue to increase access to tests, vaccines, and treatments,” the spokesperson concluded.

The spokesperson did not answer questions about why the vaccination goal is where it is, the assertion that the administration would be handling the outbreak differently if it were not primarily affecting men who have sex with men, and when federal partners can tell DPH when the next shipment of vaccines will arrive.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms of monkeypox include onset of flu-like symptoms and distinctive rashes or sores that could look like pimples or blisters.

While these red, flat spots which become bumps can be anywhere on the body, they are most likely in the genital or rectal areas, or at the fingers, mouth or eyes. The spots become bumps, which break and crust over into a scab. They may be itchy, but not necessarily.

Further, some people only get one or some of these symptoms; it is possible to have a fever but never a rash, or have these symptoms sequentially and not concurrently.

What is the monkeypox vaccine?

Getting a vaccine within 14 days of exposure can prevent or mitigate disease risk, as the incubation period can be weeks. Healthcare providers should test for other infections with similar symptoms, such as syphilis. Tests for monkeypox are confirmed at specialized labs. The monkeypox virus is in the orthopoxvirus family alongside smallpox, for which routine vaccination in the United States ended in 1972 after the disease was declared eradicated here. The smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective against monkeypox, though its effectiveness reduces over time.

Side-effects of the Jynneos vaccine could include redness, pain or swelling at the injection site, muscle pain, headache, fatigue and nausea.

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Who can get a monkeypox infection?

While “many of the cases are occurring within networks of gay, bisexual, trans people, and men who have sex with men,” San Francisco Department of Public Health spokesperson Noel Sanchez stated, anyone can become infected with the monkeypox virus.

“SFDPH takes monkeypox seriously,” Sanchez stated. “While most cases resolve on their own without pills or treatment, monkeypox can be serious. We are trying to contain outbreaks and reduce transmission to avoid the virus spreading to more people and potentially becoming endemic. To that end, we are doing education and outreach to communities most at risk; tracking monkeypox cases; distributing and administering vaccines as a preventative measure to people at high risk because of an exposure; and supporting testing and clinical guidance to providers, among other efforts.”

Sanchez advises people to:

  • cover exposed skin in crowds
  • avoid sharing bedding and clothing
  • talk with close physical and sexual contacts about health, rashes and sores
  • be aware of symptoms