Gay men are in line as early as 2 a.m. for smallpox vaccines. Many of them leave empty-handed

San Francisco (CNN) The line begins to form before dawn outside the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, with some people arriving as early as 2 a.m., carrying folding chairs and blankets to protect against the nighttime chill of the Bay.

They wear face masks, and maintain social distance from others, obeying the basic rules from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic – when the desperate need for vaccines far exceeded what federal and state governments could provide.

This line of most men is waiting for the monkey pox virus vaccine. The disease is spreading rapidly and on Thursday the Biden administration declared a public health emergency.

Many, however, will leave empty-handed, as local hospitals and clinics have had to rely on an inconsistent and insufficient supply of vaccines, a dilemma that has enraged patients and advocates.

San Francisco General opens the clinic doors at 8 a.m. and the line moves slowly. The hospital will distribute the available doses until the supply ends.

For Cody Aarons, 31, it was his third attempt. Stay calm with more than 100 people already in front of him.

“I was in New York for the past month for work, and I tried with their online portal system and did not succeed in getting a vaccine,” said the health worker who thought he might have a better chance in San Francisco.

But 45 minutes after starting the distribution of the day, a member of the hospital staff passed by with an announcement. “People we have reached our limit for today,” he shouted. “However, we will try to find more shots.”

Although not guaranteed to get the monkeypox vaccine that day, Aarons — and nearly everyone else in line — settled down.

“People want their vaccine,” said Rafael Mandelman, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “I know one person who was in that line four different days before he finally got his vaccination.”

Mandelman, who got up at 4:30 a.m. and he waited for hours before receiving his vaccination days before, he is frustrated with the rollout.

“After going through a pandemic where we can discover a new vaccine, [and] distribute tens of millions of doses in a few months, the fact that with an existing known vaccine we can’t get more than these poor dribbles. is very frustrating for the people,” he said.

In California, the majority of those infected – more than 98% – are men, with more than 91% of patients identifying as LGBTQ. Mandelman feels that he and others in the gay community have been left to advocate on their own, without support from the federal government.

Desperate and fearful

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“At the peak of Covid vaccinations, we have an average of 1,400 to 1,500 (doses) a day. So we are completely used to the mass vaccination process,” said nurse manager Merjo Roca.

But Roca and his staff are limited in what they can do given the vaccine shortage.

San Francisco health officials initially requested 35,000 doses, but say they have obtained only 12,000 from the federal reserve. The state of California has informed city leaders that San Francisco will receive 10,700 more in the next allocation, but there is no clear indication when these doses will arrive or how many will reach San Francisco General Hospital for distribution.

“I think one of our biggest challenges is really just the inconsistency of the supply,” Roca said. “Our vaccine clinic is proud to be able to help and vaccinate people when they walk through our doors. So it’s super hard for all of our staff to not be able to do that and have to turn people away and they don’t even have information to be. say when we will have the next doses.”

With many of those online fearing the rapid increase of monkey pox in cases, the staff of the clinic feels an added burden for not being able to provide for everyone.

“It’s very difficult to listen to someone explain why they want the vaccine and why they need the vaccine and we just don’t have it,” Roca added.

“It was like someone took a drill all over my body”

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“It was like someone taking a hole-puncher all over my body”

The government maintains that it acted urgently and with the data. And there are clear differences between the response now and the response to HIV/AIDS. On the same subject : Contraception, same-sex marriage: Clarence Thomas points to new targets for the Supreme Court. But some advocates say the government’s perceived lack of urgency to address a public health crisis impacting queer communities today mirrors what gay men experienced decades ago.

Between October 1980 and May 1981, five young men from across Los Angeles — described by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time as “active homosexuals” — were diagnosed with a unusual lung infection and two of them died.

It was the first time that acquired immunodeficiency syndrome – the devastating advanced stage of HIV infection that would go on to claim the lives of more than 40 million people worldwide – was reported for the first time in the United States.

Exchanges between President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary and reporters in 1982 and 1983 indicate that the nation’s top officials and mainstream society saw the disease as a joke and not a problem of great concern.

This stemmed from the perception of AIDS as a “gay plague” – a condition thought to be linked to the lifestyles and behaviors of gay men – although cases were also reported in women, children, those with hemophilia and people who have injected. drugs.

Now, more than 40 years later, the homosexual community is again faced with feeling ostracized and neglected by their own government.

“We have a responsibility to no longer stigmatize or politicize this issue for a community that has long faced many problems, has long been marginalized in our community,” said Tyler TerMeer, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “Since the early days of the HIV epidemic in our country, we have seen our community abandoned by the federal government in its response,” he said.

The foundation opened its doors in 1982 “at a moment of crisis in our community, when the federal government abandoned us … there are parallels between that moment and this,” according to TerMeer.

“President Biden has asked us to explore every option on the table to fight the monkeypox epidemic and protect communities at risk,” said White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton. “We’re applying the lessons learned from the battles we’ve fought — from the COVID response to wildfires to measles, and we’re going to tackle this fire with the urgency that this moment demands.”

Monkeypox is a poxvirus, related to smallpox and varicella and usually causes pimple-like or blister-like lesions and flu-like symptoms such as fever, according to the CDC.

The lesions are typically concentrated on the arms and legs, but in the latest outbreak, they appear more frequently on the genital and perianal area, which has raised some concerns that monkeypox lesions can be confused with STDs.

“I had between 600 to 800 injuries all over my body… It was like someone took a drill all over my body. There were spots where I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t touch things,” said Kevin Kwong , who recently recovered from monkeypox after being diagnosed in early July.

Chronicle his test on social media to raise awareness of the epidemic and now wants to “focus on destigmatizing the gay community”.

The first case of monkeypox in the United States was announced on May 18 in a patient hospitalized in Massachusetts who had traveled to Canada by private transport.

Less than three months later, there are more than 7,000 confirmed cases of the outbreak nationwide, identified in all but two states — Montana and Wyoming, according to the CDC.

Since early June, the CDC says it has done extensive education and outreach to the LGBTQ community, including working with local Pride organizations, releasing educational videos and creating campaigns on social media sites. and dating apps popular in the gay community.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 25,054 laboratory-confirmed cases as of August 3, and 122 probable cases.

“At the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those who have multiple partners,” the Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the end of July when WHO declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. .

But while the outbreak has disproportionately affected some gay communities, there is growing concern about the spread of the infection.

The CDC in late July reported the first two cases of monkeypox in children. Two other pediatric cases were confirmed in Indiana, and another in Long Beach, California, earlier this week.

“This is a reminder that anyone, regardless of age or sexual orientation, can get monkeypox if they come into contact with the virus,” the city of Long Beach warned, echoing CDC guidance that while the risk of infection in children is low, they are “more likely to be exposed to monkeypox if they live or have recently traveled to a community with higher infection rates.”

There are more than 500 cases of the outbreak identified in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York and Texas, the latest figures from the CDC show. New York has the distinction of having the most cases – 1,748 – followed by California with 826 confirmed cases.

“We need everyone to rally behind this issue, and quickly,” TerMeer said.

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur, Augie Martin, Jen Christiansen, Carma Hassan and Carolyn Sung contributed to this story.

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