By Paola Celis
Monkeypox is a virus that mostly spreads with close skin-to-skin contact and the sharing of bodily fluids. Symptoms can include a genital rash, fever, headaches, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and more. They can occur within three weeks of a person being exposed. Prevention of the virus involves avoiding large crowds where skin is exposed, hand-washing, and receiving the Monkeypox vaccine.
Monkeypox cases have risen exponentially across the United States over the past few months. Currently, Texas has one of the highest case counts, with especially high numbers around Harris and Tarrant County.
This is not the first time the virus has spread to humans in the United States.
In 2003, an outbreak spread to humans from small mammals that were imported from Africa. The virus was contained with vigorous laboratory testing, data gathering, importation restrictions, and other actions by officials. Today, government and public health officials are working to stop the spread in humans through the distribution of vaccines and information. However, their efforts face barriers.
While there is a vaccine available for people who have not contracted Monkeypox, low supplies force counties to have to make the decision of limiting the vaccine to the most vulnerable groups.
Some counties, like McLennan, have received more vaccines – but the availability continues to fall short of demand.
Groups that have been deemed at-risk include the immunocompromised, people who have been exposed to the virus or who were in an area of high risk, and those who had an STI over the past year. County officials in highly-affected areas have stepped up to expand eligibility for the vaccine and advocate for more production to increase supply. In Tarrant County, Judge Clay Jenkins issued an emergency declaration in hopes that it would prompt the federal government to distribute more doses. Other leaders took more direct action. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner held a joint press conference on the issue. They also wrote a joint letter to the White House and Centers for Disease Control, calling on them to distribute more vaccines.
Though the issue of meeting the demand for Monkeypox vaccines has yet to be resolved, actions taken by county leaders have made great strides. Today, vaccine eligibility in many areas has been expanded to include men who engage in sexual activities with other men, a group that had previously been excluded. As County Judge Lina Hidalgo put it in a Houston Public Media report, “We’re working every day to learn as much as we can about this virus, to work to outsmart it and try to stay ahead of it.”