DENVER – Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in Colorado who only received a single dose of the monkeypox vaccine should now be getting notified to go and get their second shot.
In a news release Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced it was now administering second doses of the Jynneos vaccine for those who got vaccinated with the first dose at least 28 days ago.
The news comes several weeks after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced they were making nearly 2 million monkeypox vaccine doses available and changing the way the vaccine is administered to stretch the number of doses from one to five, given the vaccine's limited supply across the country.
State health officials are also expanding vaccine eligibility to groups outside the MSM community – the group at highest risk for contracting monkeypox in the current outbreak – to include women, transgender individuals, those who identify outside the gender binary, people who were recently diagnosed with gonorrhea or syphilis in the past three months, those eligible and/or currently using HIV prevention treatment, as well as sex workers.
The vaccine is only recommended for people who:
- Have had multiple or anonymous sex partners within the past 14 days
- Those who’ve been in close physical contact with others in places where sex parties may have occurred within the past 14 days
- Anyone who believes they have been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox within the past 14 days
- Anyone identified by public health as a known high-risk contact of someone who has monkeypox
CDPHE officials also announced a new automated scheduling system that will hopefully make finding and scheduling vaccine appointments easier for those looking to get it. Coloradans looking to get the monkeypox vaccine can book appointments at comassvax.org.
The vaccine, given as a two-dose series 28 days apart, is thought to be 85% effective against monkeypox, though experts warn data on its efficacy is limited, and even the CDC admits it does not know how effective it will be in the current outbreak, which is why the World Health Organization and the CDC are recommending people at high-risk for contracting monkeypox temporarily limit their number of sexual partners to reduce their risk of infection from the virus until they are fully vaccinated.
More than 10,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine have been administered in Colorado, including more than 8,400 at CDPHE-run clinics and mobile vaccine units, state health officials say.
Queer communities of color most impacted in current outbreak
Queer Black and Latino men are currently at greater risk of catching monkeypox than any other racial or ethnic group in Colorado.
Demographic data from the CDPHE shows communities of color are being disproportionately affected by monkeypox – mirroring disparities in health care seen during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – even though the majority of the state population is white.
Hispanics and Latinos, who represent only 22% of the statewide population, account for about 35% of all monkeypox cases, while Black people, who only represent 4.1% of the population, make up about 13% of all current cases in the state. Whites, on the other hand, represent 67% of the state population but only account for about 56% of all cases.
Health care disparities are also showing up when analyzing which populations are able to get the vaccine.
State demographic data shows only about 11% of Hispanics and Latinos (22% of Colorado’s population) have been vaccinated against monkeypox. Blacks have gotten about 4.7% of vaccine doses, which is on part with their statewide demographic. Whites have had the most access to the vaccine, representing 72% of all distributed doses, even though they make up 67% of the state population.
What to know about monkeypox
Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of western and central Africa, is caused by an infection from a virus in the same family as smallpox, causing a similar (but less severe) illness.
Those infected with the virus may start experiencing flu-like symptoms that can include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion, followed by a telltale rash that appears within one to three days after the onset of fever, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body, including the genital area, anus or the mouth.
Monkeypox can look like syphilis, herpes, blisters, or even acne, health officials say, so it’s a good idea to get checked out with your primary care provider if you suddenly develop a new rash or bumps.
Atypical presentations of the virus are possible, as some cases have presented a rash that has not been spreading to as many parts of the body as previous outbreaks and the number of lesions have been just a few if they occur at all. Other symptoms currently being reported include bloody stools, rectal pain, rectal bleeding, as well as sore throat, nasal congestion and/or cough.
Where to get tested for monkeypox
If you or someone you know wants to get tested for monkeypox but don't have a primary care provider, you can get tested at the following locations, just make sure you call ahead to set up an appointment:
- Denver Sexual Health Clinic
- UCHealth urgent care
- UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital
- Vivent Health
- Jefferson County Public Health Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic
- Larimer County Public Health
- Weld County Public Health
- Gunnison County Public Health
- Mesa County Public Health
How does monkeypox spread?
In humans, the virus can spread through direct contact with the infectious rash and scabs of an infected person, as well as through the exchange of bodily fluids when kissing or having sex, as it's happening in the current outbreak.
Inhaling large respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact can also spread the virus (brief interactions are unlikely to result in transmission, the CDC says), so it’s not a bad idea to continue wearing high-quality masks if you come into contact with someone who suspects they may have monkeypox. Other less common ways the virus can spread is through contaminated clothing or linens.
Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed, which can take up to 21 days.
Those infected with the virus must isolate at home and stay away from people and their pets until all lesions heal and new skin has formed.
During the isolation period, someone from the CDPHE will make call you and ask about any recent travel, close contacts and medical visits. State health officials stressed it's important to answer or return those calls to prevent further spread of the virus.
While anyone can get monkeypox through direct contact with the infectious rash or scabs of an infected person or through prolonged face-to-face contact, not everyone is at same level of heightened risk of infection at the moment.
Studies of the global outbreak from the New England Journal of Medicine, the BMJ, the U.K. Health Security Agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the U.S. CDC show that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are overwhelmingly contracting the disease, and that transmission is mainly happening through close contact during sex.
The CDC is currently investigating whether the disease can spread asymptomatically, just like SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Health officials are also investigating whether the virus could be present in semen, vaginal fluids, and fecal matter and be transmitted that way.
Complications from the disease can include pneumonia, vision loss due to eye infection, and sepsis, a life-threatening infection. The strain currently spreading across the world has a fatality rate of about 1%, health officials say. Children, pregnant women and the immunocompromised are at risk of suffering from severe complications of the virus.
As of Thursday, there were 18,989 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S., including 229 cases in Colorado. There were more than 51,000 cases across the globe, though cases have begun declining worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.