A vial containing the vaccine for monkeypox, which is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox. ( Hollie Adams | Getty Images)
Wisconsin’s public health providers are working to distribute vaccines to guard against monkeypox, the viral illness that has become the subject of a national public health emergency. The initial focus is on people thought to be most at risk for the illness.
The vaccine, which the federal government has been distributing as clusters of the illness have broken out in the U.S. and worldwide, is being sent to designated hubs in Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee. From there it will be distributed to local clinics, health departments and other providers, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for the state bureau of communicable diseases in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).
Westergaard spoke with reporters in a briefing Wednesday.
Because of limited stores of the vaccine, the first priority for the initial doses that the state is receiving will be people at the highest risk, Westergaard said. Currently Wisconsin has been allocated just under 6,000 doses from the federal government, with more expected to become available starting Aug. 15, he said.
DHS has also adopted a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Tuesday that the vaccine can be administered in the skin rather than under the skin. A dose of 0.1 milliliter appears to provide immune protection that is about as effective as the standard dose given under the skin, which is 0.5 milliliters, Westergaard said. That makes it possible to adequately vaccinate five times as many people with the current supplies as would be expected.
“We have more people who can benefit from vaccines than we have doses for,” Westergaard said. “So the ability to stretch our vaccine that much farther is a great opportunity.”
Monkeypox is a form of the orthopox virus that also includes smallpox. The illness has in a matter of a few months begun turning up in every country, including the U.S., where it has been found across the nation. Wisconsin has recorded 32 cases so far, he said.
Monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection, but the current outbreaks have largely centered on networks of gay and bisexual men as well as some transgender and nonbinary people, he said, where it is apparently spreading in part through sexual contact. Those populations have been particularly affected by the recent outbreak, and for that reason, they are among the highest priority for the vaccine.
That doesn’t mean they are unusually susceptible, Westergaard said — just that their social networks have afforded the virus the opportunity to spread. And DHS has been meeting and conferring with colleges and university student health clinics and administrators about risk factors and planning to avoid outbreaks.
Shots are also being prioritized for people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other conditions that have weakened their immune system, he said.
Current CDC guidance calls for giving vaccine priority to recently exposed or infected people along with at-risk people not infected. Researchers have found administering the vaccine even to someone already exposed or infected can ward off a more severe infection.
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