“It was like trying to win the lottery. It was so difficult.
On a hot Saturday afternoon last weekend at Bronx High School of Science in New York, 42-year-old Alexx Dunn stood in line for a monkeypox vaccine at a public health vaccination site.
For his elusive date which can usually only be booked online, Dunn needed two cell phones (the second borrowed from his colleague), four different chances to register for the shot after failing to get an appointment yourself with each new batch of slots released, and valuable time away from his job as a retail manager in Manhattan’s fashionable SoHo shopping district, a job he quickly resumed as soon as his Saturday date ended. In the United States, the rapid increase in monkeypox cases has now been officially declared a national public health emergency. Ahead of Thursday’s announcement by the Biden administration, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York State Governor Kathy Hochul issued separate emergency declarations. New York City has the bulk of US cases so far, with San Francisco also hard hit.
New York health officials are offering vaccinations through an online registration portal under strict eligibility, including for those who may have been exposed to monkeypox. Currently, men and members of the LGBTQ+ community are the most affected groups, although anyone can contract the virus.
But amid belated increases in appointment availability for those eligible, Since the last outbreak of this relatively rare virus reached Europe and the United States in the second half of May, experts and patients have found that the vaccination process is favoring a privileged few.
Those with the most resources – time, fast internet access and electronic devices, knowledge about monkeypox and vaccinations, sometimes acquired through well-connected friends – have been best placed to make limited appointments, while leaving plenty of room. alongside marginalized communities.
Demographic data on those vaccinated are largely unavailable. But current figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that racial minorities make up the majority of monkeypox cases in the United States, ABC News reported.
Data from July 28 showed that of the 4,600 reported cases of monkeypox in the United States, Hispanics made up 31% and blacks 27%, although they represent only 19% and 13% of the general population, respectively.
Data from New York follows a similar trend. Of 1,630 monkeypox cases in New York reported as of Aug. 4, blacks and Hispanics together accounted for more than half.
But many fear that the vaccination process will not best serve the communities and neighborhoods most affected by it, and fears abound amid preventable spread. Last Saturday, some faced more challenges than others.
“Super easy to register online. No problem at all. It took me maybe three minutes to do everything,” said Steven Harris, 39, who is white and was able to get the appointment while working from home in Manhattan and then traveling to the Bronx, the city’s borough with the lowest percentage of white residents and the highest poverty rate.
But others, like Charles Robinson, 28, described a different experience, with Robinson, a biology PhD student, using two laptops to finally get an appointment on the glitchy health website.
“It’s complete bullshit. I don’t understand why we have to do all this to do one thing,” Robinson, a black man, said after receiving his first of two recommended vaccine doses on Saturday after traveling from Harlem.
Daslyn Colson, who also received a vaccine on Saturday, added that from what she had heard and seen – mostly the line being populated by white people although the vast majority of Bronx residents are non-white. – the overall process appeared to repel actual residents of the Bronx who may be disproportionately affected by monkeypox.
“I know there were issues the previous times when they had the first wave of vaccines available and people were coming into the Bronx and taking them from blacks and browns. I see that a lot today.
Colson, a black woman in her late 20s, traveled from eastern New York to get vaccinated, finding no appointments available online closer to home.
Colson’s comments echoed complaints and fears on social media and by others online, that most privileged white people could take advantage of the few resources available for the monkeypox vaccine.
Jason Cianciotto, vice president of communications and public policy at GMHC, the city’s nonprofit organization born out of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1980s whose website reads “Monkeypox: Be Aware But Don’t don’t panic,” spoke of the vaccine shortage.
“This [impacts] low-income communities of color, immigrants, transgender and gender non-conforming people who, for many reasons, have never had access to health care, technology, [and may have] jobs that might prevent them from being able to jump in line to try and get a date,” Cianciotto said.
Cianciotto and Anthony Fortenberry, chief nurse at the city’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Centre, both spoke to the Guardian about a startlingly low level of available vaccine doses that is exacerbating existing health inequalities.
New York City has just 79,000 monkeypox vaccines, with the United States distributing less than a third of the estimated 3.5 million it will need, The New York Times reported.
“[With] the vaccine, when you ration health care, only the most privileged can access it,” Fortenberry said.
For those who do not see a regular doctor, information about monkeypox is difficult to obtain. According to a June 2022 report from the New York State Department of Health, LGBTQ+ adults, especially transgender people, are more likely than the general population to not see a doctor regularly or have health insurance. .
Even for those with medical coverage, information is patchy.
“I had to do research. I don’t see the readily available information. It was just word of mouth,” Colson said, adding that the overall process was “messy.”
Similarly to Dunn, 23-year-old Zachary Skurka, who called the vaccination rollout a “hot mess,” had to call out of work to book his appointment for the monkeypox vaccine, adding that many of his friends were unable to make or keep appointments available due to labor disputes.
“It’s very difficult,” Skurka said. “I’ve had a lot of friends who couldn’t make appointments because they were either at work or didn’t show up to the appointment window in time to make appointments. one because they were too busy or the site was not working. [different] reasons, so they are still waiting,” he added as he waited outside the Bronx school.
“Not everyone has the option of waiting by the phone and being able to fiddle with the phone so they can get the appointment,” added Jonathan Adams, 38, who commuted across town to get vaccinated after making an appointment. his fourth try.
Cianciotto said many GHMC customers, especially those with poor internet access or disabilities, have encountered difficulties in the current process.
While appointments can now be made over the phone for those struggling online, Cianciotto said those additional options are poorly advertised.
Inequality in the supply of vaccines risks becoming a global problem.
New York City is slowly opening more vaccination sites.
But Sandile Mhlaba, 24, had to travel to the Bronx by public transit for more than an hour from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn to be shot.
“I am an immunocompromised person so if I have to be on the subway [train] for a long time, around a group of people who don’t wear masks, it’s obviously very difficult, but I wanted to prioritize my health, so I said it was worth it,” said said Mhlaba.
Meanwhile, for Bronx residents like Julio Arniella, 56, the flood of people commuting for the vaccine, including wealthier neighborhoods such as Manhattan’s Chelsea, has pushed him and other residents , not to get vaccinated.
Arniella was only able to get his vaccination when he used a different zip code, having failed to use his Bronx zip code, he said.
“For someone like me, living in the Bronx, I can’t even enter my own zip code to get an appointment,” Arniella said. “I couldn’t get any in my own borough.”
Representatives from the New York City Health Department said data breaking down vaccinations by demographics was being developed.
The department sent coverage of outreach efforts at a gay bar in the borough of Queens on July 23, more than two months after the first US cases of this outbreak, amid US public health departments severely depleted by the pandemic. coronavirus disaster.
Back in the Bronx, Dunn spoke of the pressure to get the monkeypox vaccine amid crushing unmet demand.
“Imagine thousands of people trying to get vaccinated at the same time…I feel like I was trying to save my life, it was crazy,” Dunn said before rushing back to work.