DHS gives monkeypox vaccine wider distribution

By: - September 7, 2022 6:00 am
Monkey Pox Lesions

In this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handout photo, symptoms of the monkeypox virus are shown on a patient’s hand. (Courtesy of CDC | Getty Images)

The vaccine for monkeypox virus will get wider distribution, Wisconsin health officials said Tuesday, as the eligible population has expanded and the reserve of vaccine supplies has increased.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer with the Dept. of Health Services and UW Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine. (Photo: UW-Madison faculty)
Dr. Ryan Westergaard

The rate of infections from the virus has been declining in recent weeks, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the bureau of communicable diseases in the state Department of Health Services. Westergaard spoke at a media briefing.

Expanded eligibility for the vaccine includes people known to have been in close contact with patients who have tested positive for monkeypox; people who have been potentially exposed to the virus through a sexual partner diagnosed with the condition or from being at a venue where there was known monkeypox exposure; and people who for a variety of reasons are considered to heave a higher risk of exposure in the future. The complete list can be consulted at the DHS website, along with information about how to locate vaccine providers.

The current outbreak of the virus has been primarily among certain members of the LGBTQ community, leading public health authorities to view those individuals as being at higher risk. Those particularly at risk include gay and bisexual men, trans men and women, any men who have sex with men, and gender non-conforming or non-binary people who have had multiple sexual partners in the last 14 days, according to DHS.

Monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted infection and it is not spread only through sexual activity, Westergaard said. It is spread through close contact with the skin, which sexual activity involves but which can also occur in other contexts. Nevertheless, the current outbreak has appeared to primarily spread among sexual partners.

At the same time, “we have seen cases in this country from household contacts that were not sexual exposures,” he added, as well as some transmission in child care settings elsewhere in the U.S. and in the workplace in other countries. 

As of Monday 63 cases of monkeypox have been identified in Wisconsin, but Westergaard said the frequency of cases appears to be on the decline.

According to DHS, more than half of all monkeypox cases in the state have been in communities of color, including nearly 42% occurring in Black Wisconsin residents. But 22% of vaccine doses have been administered to nonwhite Wisconsin residents, the department reported. 

The pattern is one that has repeated itself many times with many communicable diseases, including COVID-19, HIV and other illnesses, and reflects “social and structural inequities in our society,” Westergaard said. DHS has been communicating with community organizations, particularly those that address HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, to inform them about the risks and to provide access to the vaccine.

Wisconsin has received 3,854 vials of vaccine from the federal government and has been allocated another 1,760 vials that aren’t yet available to be distributed, according to DHS. 

A change in how the vaccine is administered has made it possible to provide the vaccine to five times as many people, Westergaard said, which also allowed the state to expand who was eligible for the vaccine.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.