Resources for Monkeypox Are Rare in the Central Valley of California

Luna Lockhart, 25, hopped in the car with their roommate and drove the 3.5 hours from Fresno to San Francisco just before midnight on a recent Tuesday.

They were going to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where a line of over 400 individuals was forming for a monkeypox vaccine.

Lockhart stated to CalMatters, “They aren’t giving out monkeypox immunizations in Fresno.” We just went ahead and took the initiative.

There have been calls for a more robust public health response to the monkeypox outbreak since it has disproportionately affected gay and bisexual males and transgender individuals. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda, and San Diego counties saw the most cases, so the state allocated its limited supplies of the monkeypox vaccination there first. However, Central Valley gay activists say they have been left in the dark by state public health officials when it comes to distributing funds to combat monkeypox.

When compared to other California counties, San Francisco’s dosages per resident are significantly higher. With only 4 per 1,000 people in Los Angeles and 1 among the 19 counties of the Central Valley, it has the highest rate of any American city.

Unfortunately, most of the funds end up in the Golden State and the Golden State.

Upon becoming Tracy’s first out LGBTQ elected official, Dan Tavares Arriola emphasized the need of remembering that there are LGBTQ persons all over the state.

Last week, Arriola testified at a monkeypox hearing held by a special committee of the state Senate. According to CalMatters, he has talked to many other LGBT persons in the Central Valley who, like Lockhart, have driven several hours to get vaccinated.

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Arriola expressed his frustration, saying, “It’s terrible since the Central Valley is always left behind.” In late July, he came down with monkeypox, and he and his girlfriend spent days searching for a cure and a vaccination.

Lockhart had to travel to San Francisco to get vaccinated since there were only 20 available vaccines in all of Fresno County despite having 1,000,000 people living there. Since the vaccination required two doses, it was only possible to fully immunize ten persons. While there were less than 650 instances of monkeypox in the entire state at the time, that number has since risen to nearly 2,000, increasing by a factor of nearly three in only the past two and a half weeks. State Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco and the committee’s chair, likened the wait for a vaccine appointment to “The Hunger Games,” saying that people had to wait in lines that wrapped around the block to acquire one.

Jennifer Cruz, executive director of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center, reported that she had not received any information from the county health department about vaccinations or where to direct people with questions 16 days after the county confirmed its first monkeypox case and 10 weeks after California reported its first case.

There are daily calls regarding monkeypox, according to Britni Lloyd, executive director of the MoPRIDE Center in Stanislaus County. A vaccine clinic operated by the county health department is planned for the MoPRIDE Center, however, it has not yet opened. Lloyd has started compiling a list of people to contact when her turn comes.

During the Senate hearing, State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan testified that the state health department will reevaluate its vaccine distribution strategy once supplies were increased. In order to stretch limited supplies of the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently instructed states to provide each dose in five separate doses.

Vaccines, according to experts, aren’t the silver bullet for stopping the epidemic. However, health departments often lack the personnel to do contact tracing, which is necessary to contain monkeypox by identifying everyone who has been in close proximity to an infected person and conducting preventive testing and vaccination.

Dr. Jason Andrews, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at Stanford Health, stated, “We’re still at a stage where (contact tracing) would continue to be beneficial for monkeypox.” However, we currently lack the necessary infrastructure and funding to implement this.