BERKELEY (KRON) – Health agencies in the East Bay have started vaccinating men who have sex with men with the vaccine Jynneos as they race against time to curb the monkeypox outbreak.

As KRON4 reported yesterday, health officials such as San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer are sounding the alarm that the federal government has not provided enough vaccines to “beat the curve of new infections.”

In San Francisco, those eligible to receive the vaccine include close contacts of people with confirmed or suspected monkeypox, people who had “close, physical contact with others” at an event with a reported monkeypox case, laboratory workers who handle viral samples, and clinicians with high-risk occupational exposure, according to the department of public health. Those interested are advised by DPH to contact City Clinic in the city’s south of Market neighborhood, or Magnet at Strut in the Castro neighborhood.

But in the East Bay, health agencies are trying a different strategy — focusing on preventing potential hotbeds of transmission rather than responding to them.

On Wednesday, a joint effort by City of Berkeley Public Health, Alameda County Public Health, the East Bay AIDS Center and the California Department of Public Health vaccinated hundreds of people who heard via word-of-mouth about a pop-up clinic at Steamworks Baths in Berkeley.

Berkeley city spokesperson Matthai Chakko told KRON4 it was the second such effort at the site, which is frequented by men who have sex with men. Exposure was not a requirement to receive a jab.

“After mutual discussion with Steamworks, the City of Berkeley requested vaccine and support to host a vaccine clinic at Steamworks,” Chakko stated. “Men who have sex with men is a group at higher risk.”

Chakko stated the agencies are “working with our partners to have future events.” When asked why public health agencies didn’t announce the pop-up clinic in advance, Chakko said “the goal was for Steamworks to be able to announce it directly through their own networks.”

“We are working with Steamworks to help notify people of the availability of the second shot, which can be taken starting four weeks after the first dose,” Chakko stated.

When asked how many doses of vaccine have been received by Alameda County and the City of Berkeley (which has its own public health department), Chakko did not answer, but said that 223 doses were given out at Steamworks. Alameda County public health spokesperson Neetu Balram stated to KRON4 that the county has recieved 140 doses of vaccine thus far, and has authorized 120 more to be distributed to health care providers, as of Friday morning.

Steamworks Berkeley did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

Alameda County has only five reported cases of monkeypox, compared with 40 in San Francisco (though Steamworks Baths draws clientele from the entire region; gay bathhouses were under severe legal restrictions in San Francisco from 1984 until 2021 that largely prevented them from operating). Two events in San Francisco that occurred on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride weekend reported recently of a possible monkeypox case, as KRON4 reported Wednesday.

SFDPH told KRON4 on Tuesday that it had received only 580 doses of vaccine. By Thursday, it had received 2,308 more. Most of these vaccine doses have not been distributed.

Of those that have been, 455 were sent to City Clinic and 290 were sent to Magnet, DPH stated.

When asked when it will begin more widespread vaccination efforts, DPH spokesperson Noel Sanchez told KRON4 that “as more doses become available, SFDPH will expand the eligibility pool to include new categories of people who are higher risk … including those within these self-identified groups who are immunocompromised because of HIV/AIDS or other medical conditions.”

Sanchez stated that “although vaccine supplies – which are dictated by state and federal partners – are still limited, SFDPH is expecting new allocations of the Jynneos vaccine to arrive regularly.” At this time, however, “the goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible who have been directly exposed to the monkeypox virus.”

On June 28, the Biden administration announced it expects 1.6 million doses of vaccine to be available by the end of the year, including 750,000 over the summer and 500,000 in the fall.

“HHS will immediately allocate 56,000 vaccine doses currently in the Strategic National Stockpile to states and territories across the country, prioritizing jurisdictions with the highest number of cases and population at risk,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated in a press release. Some 60,000 doses will remain in the stockpile. The initial doses are intended to respond to confirmed monkeypox exposure; newly-manufactured doses will be “made available to a broader population of individuals at risk.”

“As additional doses are received from the manufacturer, HHS will make them available to jurisdictions to expand availability to the vaccine for individuals with elevated risk,” HHS stated.

In the meantime, to prevent against monkeypox infection, Sanchez advises people to:

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

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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.

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,” 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.”