By Michele Zipkin
PHILADELPHIA – Members of Black and Latinx Community Control of Health (BLCC) and ACT UP Philadelphia met last week with staff from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to talk about monkeypox messaging and the need for the vaccine for people of color and communities of color. other marginalized.
“We drove home the need to change the public narrative focused on the LGBTQ community and the need to reach out to Latino communities in both Spanish and English,” said José de Marco, ACT UP organizer and founder of BLCC.
De Marco opened the meeting by asking Health Department officials if they could provide a demographic breakdown of who in Philadelphia has received the monkeypox vaccine so far. “By the time we got that call an hour later, they couldn’t tell us,” de Marco said. “Maybe it’s too early.”
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Health Department said in an email: “Demographic information on vaccine distribution will be available at this website, via the dashboard. We anticipate that this will be available in the near future. It is currently being updated with cases and vaccine capacity every week on Mondays.”
Billy Penn recently reported on rumors that most of the initial doses of the vaccine were given to white Philadelphians, despite high positivity rates among people of color.
“We asked [the Health Department] about the Billy Penn article that came out that basically says you’re seeing more white people getting vaccinated than people of color,” said Jazmyn Henderson, an organizer with BLCC and ACT UP. “They just completely avoided it.”
As for strengthening federal advocacy and support, the health department spokesman said the department is “engaging with community leaders to help support advocacy for more vaccine distribution in urban areas where we’re seeing higher prevalence.”
Activists suggested to the Health Department that they should partner with Prevention Point Philadelphia to reach out to intravenous drug users, sex workers and people experiencing homelessness, de Marco said. The Department of Health is in the process of organizing trainings with Prevention Point staff and “designating public training sessions for trusted reporters,” which will be available in English and Spanish.
“Sex workers are becoming eligible for the monkeypox vaccine from August 11,” the Department of Health spokesman said. “At this point we have not seen cases among health care workers or homeless individuals who do not also have other risk factors. However, these are important groups to watch and we hope to be able to vaccinate these groups as soon as we have enough vaccine.”
Additionally, the spokesperson said the Health Department team plans to further reach out to communities of color by hosting events with Philadelphia organizations. Health Department staff have met with specific organizations, “for feedback that allows us to provide updated information in targeted countries.”
De Marco, Henderson and other members of the aforementioned organizations have also called on health institutions, including the Philadelphia Department of Health, to stop framing the monkeypox outbreak in terms of its impact on LGBTQ communities, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM). .
De Marco noted a potential danger of associating monkeypox with gay and bisexual men: not all men who have sex with men identify as part of the LGBTQ community. “They don’t identify as gay, they don’t accept the label, but they are engaging in same-sex sex,” de Marco said. “They’re going to think, ‘If I go get treatment for this, is that going to make me go away?’
Another negative side effect of LGBTQ-centric monkeypox messaging is that it can perpetuate stigma against an already marginalized population, particularly trans women of color, de Marco added. “I’m really thinking about Black and Latina trans women. Not only are they killed, but they are also brutalized. For them to be suppliers of monkey pox is not a good thing.”
In response to the issue of the framing of monkeypox as a disease that most affects LGBTQ people, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said in an email, “The Department of Health recognizes the sensitivity of this issue and has made it a priority to communicate information to communities LGBTQ and MSM. . The truth is that anyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity is at risk of infection. Currently, Department of Health epidemiologists have found that the current outbreak of monkeypox has been more frequent among men who have sex with men who have had multiple partners in recent weeks. This does not mean that it can circulate only among men who have sex with men and with multiple partners. Anyone can become infected with monkeypox, and we expect to see it spread to other social and cultural networks.”
Henderson has called for more widespread testing and vaccinations beyond LGBTQ communities.
“We really don’t know who’s getting it [monkeypox] because they’re not testing everyone,” she said. “There have been cish people who have come in for testing with monkeypox symptoms and then been turned away by their doctor because ‘it’s a gay disease.’ That’s what you’re seeing on social media and hearing from the media, and that needs to be corrected.”
Although Department of Health staff are collaborating with health care providers to expand their testing capacity, the limited supply of vaccines is crippling their ability to expand their vaccine efforts. Residents and non-residents of Philadelphia can be vaccinated against monkeypox in Philadelphia, provided they meet the Department of Health’s criteria.
“The Department of Health aims at some point to be able to vaccinate anyone who fits the risk criteria,” the spokesman said. “However, due to supply constraints we are only able to vaccinate those who have direct contact with known exposures. We understand the frustrations and know it’s not an ideal situation. Unfortunately, at this time it is the best way to protect residents who are at higher risk until we receive additional distribution of vaccines from the federal government.”
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC created a plan to use less vaccine per dose so you can get more injections in more arms.
As for whether the activist groups felt the Health Department staff was receptive to their suggestions, Henderson said, “they were very noncommittal about everything. It was one of those things [where they said] “That’s what the CDC is saying.”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.