The Georgia Department of Public Health says it was able to distribute more than 4,000 monkeypox vaccine doses to people during Atlanta Black Pride weekend. Nearly half of those — 48% — went to Black people.
The state’s public health department participated in President Joe Biden’s initiative to get extra monkeypox vaccines to certain states hosting Pride events. Justin Smith, Positive Impact Behavior Centers’ director of the Campaign to End AIDS, says that number is proof that outreach efforts are working. Positive Impact has worked with health officials to distribute vaccines.
“There’s this notion that Black people are hard to reach, and that’s not true,” Smith said. “This type of program shows that by working in partnership with communities, they can be reached.”
Dr. Alexander Millman, chief medical officer with DPH, said that while progress is good, there’s still a long way to go in vaccine equity for monkeypox.
In Georgia, according to the most recent data, about 45% of all first doses of the monkeypox vaccine have gone to Black people, who make up 78% of cases. The vast majority of cases have affected men who have sex with men.
“We have been able to, through some of our equity outreach, reach more populations of African Americans through our vaccination efforts as a way of being able to try to get vaccination to the populations that have been more heavily affected,” Millman said during a Board of Public Health meeting on Tuesday. Outreach, he says, will continue with other Pride organizations in preparation for the Pride Parade in October. Some of the community organizations the state has partnered with include Impulse, Carl Bean Men’s Health Center, A Vision 4 Hope, and others.
State health officials say they’ve become “cautiously optimistic” about being able to slow the spread of monkeypox as the number of new cases begins to trend downward. Right now, Georgia has over 1,600 cases of monkeypox, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Previously, the vaccine was exclusively made available to men who have sex with men. The state recently expanded its criteria for eligibility, with the biggest change being that anyone of any gender is capable of getting the vaccine if they meet the criteria laid out by DPH.
Those eligible now include people who have had multiple sex partners who have sex with men, have engaged in sex work, are HIV positive, or take HIV PrEP. Eligibility also includes patients diagnosed with a new sexually transmitted disease, who have had skin-to-skin contact at a large venue in the last 14 days, or suspect they’re a close contact for someone with monkeypox.