The scene at SF General on Friday afternoon was grim. “There’s 200-300 gays here,” my friend texted me. “I didn’t think there were this many gays left in SF. It’s like the worst circuit party ever.”
The hospital was mobbed by people hoping to fit into the absurd two-hour window for receiving the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine, which San Francisco is in woefully short supply of. Others report still waiting more than a week for a call back about receiving the vaccine from Castro health center Strut, which is trying to fulfill a growing need, especially after two Pride parties informed attendees that they may have been exposed and SF cases rose to 40 by July 5.
San Francisco is reportedly receiving less than 2300 doses per week from the state, and must choose where to deploy them. Currently, it is prioritizing people who may have been exposed, but the need is much greater than that—especially with the huge Up Your Alley leather/fetish fair coming up at the end of the month. (The CDC has great, refreshingly straightforward advice on sex and partying during this time.)
The information on where and when to get a shot is rudimentary at best for a city in the center of the tech world, requiring multiple calls for appointment availability and not listing all the community resources available. (Berkeley bathhouse Steamworks, for example, has started to dole out limited shots.) Gay men are firing up the ol’ AIDS-era grapevine and relying on word of mouth. “It feels like the government is fucking this thing up again just like HIV,” another friend said. “They’ve had months to prepare for this, we just went through COVID, and there’s absolutely no urgency or consideration for the community.”
Monkeypox is not a “gay disease”—according to the current advisement, it is spread “through prolonged skin to skin contact, sex, kissing, breathing at very close range, or sharing bedding and clothing,” things which many gay men rightly enjoy. (Post-AIDS, gay men are also incredibly good at testing, communicating, and self-reporting about these things.) It manifests as a fever accompanied by a rash that usually starts on the face. There are some questions right now about why men who have sex with men seem to be getting it at much higher rates than women, and research continues.
The disease is, fortunately, rarely fatal and often resolves on its own; people who previously received the smallpox vaccine seem to have up to 85% resistance to it, although compromised immune systems erase some of that resistance. Still, it can be painful and may require weeks of isolation as it heals and becomes non-transmissible.
Why are we so short on a vaccine for the latest disease to make waves? An online town hall hosted by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Tue/12, 6pm-7pm may shed some light. The virtual town hall, with participation from more than a dozen community orgs, promises to “answer questions and facilitate discussion about how the infection is spreading in the Bay Area, testing and treatment, symptoms, unmet needs around vaccine access, and how to get involved in advocating for vaccine access for our community.”
Politicians Scott Wiener and Matt Haney have spoken out as well about the need for more vaccine availability. Right now it seems like things are in chaos; I’m eager to hear how we can push for help before even more cases appear. MONKEYPOX VIRTUAL TOWN HALL: Tue/12, 6pm-7pm, Spanish translation available. More info here.