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San Diego County begins limited monkeypox vaccine rollout ahead of Pride weekend

A limited number of monkeypox vaccines are being distributed by the San Diego County officials on Wednesday and Thursday in advance of the San Diego Pride Festival this weekend.

This comes as health organizations around the world have reported that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are at the highest risk for the virus. Six hundred doses of the monkeypox vaccine were made available and the appointments quickly ran out.

To help facilitate the vaccination program, the county has partnered with notable LGBTQ organizations in the area — including the San Diego LGBT Community Center and San Diego Pride. Six hundred doses of the monkeypox vaccine were made available earlier this week and vaccination appointments quickly ran out.

Program organizers said special care is being taken not to further existing misconceptions or stigma surrounding the virus and its link to the LGBTQ community at large. Officials stress anyone who comes in close contact, sexual or otherwise, with someone who has monkeypox can be infected.

“I want to be very clear this is not a disease of gay men or bisexual individuals or transgender individuals,” said San Diego County Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Ankita Kadakia. “This is a disease that we just happen to see spreading currently.”

Six cases have been reported in San Diego, but Kadakia said there is no evidence of community spread in the county yet. All cases have been linked to national or international travel.

Organizations, including San Diego Pride, have been helping spread the word about vaccination events.

“One of the great things about the LGBT community is we take care of one another — that we understand public health and we need to support and educate one another,” said San Diego Pride executive director Fernando Lopez. “So I'm really excited to see how folks are approaching that.”

Lopez does worry about creating a false stigma.

“What is really important is that when we’re talking about a public health issue — monkeypox, meningitis, COVID — these are illnesses that can impact anyone,” he said. “And so the danger is when particularly folks in the media are sort of making those illnesses out to be anything other than what they are — diseases that do not discriminate.”

Andrew Picard was one of the lucky few who managed to get vaccinated Wednesday. He appreciated how local officials have handled messaging.

“I think as a member of the LGBTQ community we’re very familiar with illnesses being stigmatized and receiving stigma as a community,” Picard said. “I think there’s been great education and awareness activities done by the county. And let's face it; just like COVID, it’s a human illness. This is a human reality. When we have limited access to vaccines like we do now it’s important to prioritize interventions for that community. I’m glad to see that’s happening here.”

County officials do not know when they will be able to offer more vaccine appointments. The federal government is in charge of distributing vaccines, and regions with the highest official case counts are given the most doses.

Monkeypox spreads through close contact and can cause rashes or flu-like symptoms but most people do not need to be hospitalized.