Massachusetts health advocates fight monkeypox with HIV/AIDS methods

When a monkeypox vaccination clinic opened in early July at Cape Cod Field Health Services in Provincetown, Harrison Fish said, “I was one of the first people to get it the first day it was available.”

At the clinic, Fish said, “Within two to three minutes I had the ball in my arm and was on my way. The staff did a great job.”

The vaccine is a two-dose schedule, about four weeks apart.

Fish co-hosts a YouTube program, “Wake Up! In Provincetown,” dedicated to topics including local arts and issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. The show featured information on monkey pox.

More info on monkeypox

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Statewide, monkeypox numbers remain low, but rising — with vaccination clinics expanded from four to 11 sites and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listing 113 cases as of July 27.

Searching for clues to a past pandemic

On May 21, the World Health Organization identified men who have sex with men as being at high risk for the virus, which is transmitted primarily through skin contact, including sexual activity.

To help those most at risk without spreading stigma, health advocates say there is already a plan – a plan that began 40 years ago with the HIV/AIDS crisis. This includes grassroots outreach and delegating trusted members of the community to serve as information ambassadors.

“I would say that the LGBTQ+ community — especially the gay and bisexual community — we’re really good at seeking our health care. That’s a legacy that comes from the HIV pandemic,” he said. Senator Julian Cyr, who represents Cape Town and the Islands.

Cyr added: “I am an openly gay man, and it was a time when AIDS and its effects were ignored and dismissed. We are certainly light years away from that time, but certainly, the same tropes and stigmas, and isolation and blame exist.”

Cyr, who received her first dose of the vaccine about two weeks ago, is working with the Ministry of Public Health, as well as local health organizations, with activities such as forums. “There are cases in any community with significant populations of LGBTQ+ men, and Provincetown is no exception.”

Grassroots efforts have also informed the COVID response, including last year’s Variant COVID Delta in Provincetown, stemming from the 4th of July weekend. Cyr said: “What happened in Provincetown last summer was not unique. What was unique in Provincetown was that people went to the doctor. People went to seek medical attention .”

Health, financial impacts

Monkeypox is usually not fatal – but its symptoms can persist for several weeks, which Cyr says is also economically disastrous.

“We’ve had our hospitality workers and seasonal workers vaccinated — people who change our sheets, who keep our economy going,” Cyr said. “The MPV is a challenge, but what concerns us most is that the recovery period is long – two to three weeks, and can be even longer.”

Cyr said: “If you’re a bartender or a waiter working in the hospitality industry, being out of work for two to three weeks can be really devastating to your livelihood.”

The supply of vaccines raises concerns.

As the official session of the Legislative Assembly nears its close on July 31, Cyr said lawmakers have expanded wording for the public health line item in the fiscal year 2023 budget, including language addressing needs. in infectious diseases.

Behaviour, not identity, spreads the virus

The challenges continue, including incorrect assumptions.

“I’ve heard that people online with monkeypox aren’t being treated because they’re not in the heavily affected group,” Fish said. “People who identify as straight will say, ‘I have a rash, but I’m not gay, so I don’t need to get tested.’ So they go on their way, get no help and spread the disease.”

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One organization involved in promoting the facts about monkeypox is the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, which has offices in Provincetown, Hyannis, Falmouth, and Martha’s Vineyard.

“We started getting phone calls. People contact us when something is happening that will impact the community. So we were getting calls and we were starting to tell people about the minivan and actions to reduce the damage “, said Dan Gates. , president and CEO of the organization.

On June 27, a community forum was held at WAVE Bar, Crown & Anchor in Provincetown. The forum included Gates, Cyr and Dr. Andrew Jorgensen, chief medical officer at Outer Cape Cod Health Services.

After a presentation, Gates said, “We just talked to the community, kind of old school, sitting with people.”

The Cape Cod AIDS Support Group has created informational materials, including this information pamphlet, to promote monkeypox awareness.

Gates added: “People stayed, and not only did they stay, but the people at the bar paid attention.”

Tracking trends, questions

The Needham-based Justice Resource Institute, also known as JRI, opened its monkeypox vaccination clinic in Framingham on July 25.

“People are of course wondering how to get vaccinated, who is eligible, how to register for it,” said John Gatto, the organization’s senior vice president for community health. “People are asking questions about their own situation, and whether they might have it or not.”

Gatto said eligible people include those identified by the state’s contact tracing system.

This includes suspected contact with a sexual partner in the past 14 days, or someone who has had multiple sexual partners.

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“I think we need to know the data, and if that’s what the data is showing, it’s important that we know that,” Gatto said. “Maybe it’s spreading for some reason among men who have sex with men right now. In weeks or months, the data could point in a different direction.”

Institute services include resources on HIV/AIDS. Gatto said, “I started working at the start of HIV/AIDS. So absolutely, that brings us back to that. I think there are valuable lessons to be learned from the HIV epidemic.

“It’s not just some people”

At Fenway Health, one of the original four vaccination sites, acting medical director Brian Bakofen said demand remains high. “We get up to 600 phone calls a day and give 100 to 150 doses a day. There are four to six visits a day from patients with possible symptoms.”

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Bakofen said: “Any communication we do, we try to be careful to try to de-stigmatize. It’s not just certain people. Anyone can get monkeypox. The longer the epidemic goes on, the more we’ll see. more and more different types of people are catching it.”

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