The initial response to monkeypox was not perfect. Doctors say testing and vaccines were slow to roll-out, but now the vaccine is in greater supply. Health officials across the board say getting vaccinated is still important for those at high-risk.
“I am very happy to see those numbers decreasing,” said Kody Kinsley, NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) secretary.
A few months ago, people waited in long lines for a monkeypox vaccines. More than 14,000 people in NC have gotten a shot, but demand is dropping with only 108 people getting vaccinated in the last week.
“We are no longer requiring the additional staff and contract nurses that we once had to administer the monkeypox vaccine,” said Rebecca Kauffman, Wake County health director.
Wake County has not had any new cases of monkeypox in two weeks. NC has confirmed 669 cases since late June. The outbreak peaked in August, when the state averaged 60 new infections a week. Compare that with just three infections statewide last week.
Health officials said 96% of all monkeypox cases have been in men, and more than 50% of those infected are known to be living with HIV.
“Right now, we are attributing a lot of the decline to behavior change and some of those behavior changes are likely short term,” Kinsley said.
The recommended changes include gay men limiting their sexual partners, Kinsley said.
UNC’s Dr. David Wohl said the vaccine has helped. Even with cases declining, he still encourages gay and bisexual men to get their shots.
“Do you want get monkeypox and have sores and then take treatment for it,” Wohl said. “Or would you rather get a couple of shots to prevent you from getting it in the first place?”
Wohl said the U.S. was better prepared for monkeypox than COVID, but he still believes the CDC could have acted quicker to communicate the risk to the LGBTQ+ community.
“That’s a problem,” Wohl said. “There’s a communication gap and they are going to have to work on this going forward.”
What could help prevent future outbreaks, he said, is shipping unused vaccine to central and West Africa.
“Right now, I can tell you there is no monkeypox vaccine available to the people who have been living with this for decades,” Wohl said.
Here at home, the White House said the recent outbreaks have taught the the country a lesson in preparedness.
“You can’t just surge funding once the problem starts,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, the COVID-19 advisor to President Biden. “We need to support our public health infrastructure at all times.”
Many health departments, including Wake and Durham counties, have thousands of unused doses with many open vaccine appointments.