Before the pandemic, Amber Moore remembers over 40,000 people coming to town every Labor Day weekend for Atlanta Black Pride. Moore, the chief operating officer of Atlanta Black Pride Inc., and other event organizers are now facing a new challenge: the state’s monkeypox outbreak.
Nearly 80% of cases in the state are Black men who have sex with men, predominantly concentrated in metro Atlanta. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, less than half — 44% — of the monkeypox vaccines have been given to Black patients.
As monkeypox continues to disproportionately affect members of metro Atlanta’s Black LGBTQ+ communities, Pride organizers say they are working to get out-of-town visitors access to vaccines and testing at events. One way they are addressing the issue is partnering with DPH to hold pop-up vaccine events at various events, along with information and testing about monkeypox.
Health equity experts say partnerships between local health departments and Atlanta Black Pride organizers are a key step to achieving vaccine equity. “Vaccination and the testing … is not as accessible as it should be,” Moore said. “ A lot of our community partners are addressing this.”
Attendance at Pride has dipped the past two years to about 20,000, with a similar number expected this year. COVID-19 and now monkeypox are largely to blame, Moore said.
Efforts by county health departments to vaccinate additional people before Pride weekend started in mid-August. Nancy Nydam, a DPH spokesperson, said the department has been working with Pride organizers to have vans set up outside various nightclubs and at the Pure Heat Community Festival on Sunday, where thousands of people are expected to show up in Central Park.
The Fulton County Board of Health is planning a vaccination event at the Neighborhood Union Health Center in Vine City on Sept. 3. In Gwinnett County, the Board of Health’s spokesperson, Chad Wasdin, said they’ve been holding weekly vaccination events in preparation for Pride. Wasdin said the board hosted a large vaccination event on Aug. 13, and people will get their second doses later this month.
“The population that is most affected and infected by monkeypox is the Black and Latino LGBTQ community. That’s a direct correlation to our target audience that comes to Atlanta Black Pride weekend,” said Melissa Scott, a managing partner of Atlanta Black Pride Weekend, which is different from Atlanta Black Pride, the nonprofit organization.
Nydam told Capital B Atlanta that the health department will track how many doses were used for additional vaccines in preparation of Pride, and then be reimbursed by the federal government. She also said the Fulton, Gwinnett, and DeKalb health boards have taken their own steps to get people vaccinated ahead of the weekend event, which is expected to draw thousands to the city.
“Throughout the MPV outbreak, DPH has focused on reaching communities of color given the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black individuals by working with community partners and social media sites,” she said.
A Vision 4 Hope, an organization that does free HIV and COVID-19 testing, recently started offering the same service for monkeypox, which also includes vaccinations. It’s an initiative the group is bringing to events over Pride weekend. According to Jeffrey Roman, the director of programming, the main goal for pushing the program during Pride is to boost equal access.
“What we saw before was vaccine availability was really based on the size of your social network,” he said. “Now, what we’re doing is saying it doesn’t matter who you know, [because we are] a community-based organization that is here to serve the entire community at a community-based event.”