Chicago is awaiting more than 15,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine from the federal government — as cases climbed to nearly 200 on Thursday and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged Secretary Xavier Becerra to take more “aggressive actions” to help battle the outbreak.
In Chicago, where 86% of the state’s cases are being reported, a second dose of the two-part vaccine is being delayed for some as the city awaits more doses, according to Chicago Department of Health spokesman Andrew Buchanan.
Monkeypox is spread through close contact and although anyone can get monkeypox, it has disproportionally affected members of the LGBTQ community and men who have sex with men. And the governor’s office is concerned cases could see an uptick at the Northalsted Market Days, an annual LGBTQ street festival scheduled for August 6 and 7. The hope is that more vaccinations now will help stem the spread.
The city on Thursday reported 197 cases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 208 total cases in Illinois as of Wednesday.
“Despite our efforts in Illinois to limit the spread of this virus, we are experiencing a steady increase in cases,” acting Illinois Department of Public Health Director Amaal Tokars said on Thursday. “The best defense against this disease is the rapid distribution of effective vaccines. While we are grateful for all the federal support we have received to date, we urge the federal government to make every effort to the extent possible to streamline the process and ramp up deliveries of vaccines so they can be promptly administered to the population that is most at risk.”
Pritzker on Wednesday sent a letter to Becerra, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, outlining the lack of available vaccines in Chicago and Illinois, despite Illinois having the third-highest number of reported cases nationwide.
“This process must be simplified and expedited to ensure people are adequately protected,” Pritzker wrote. “We know that the reported cases are only part of the actual cases, as many people do not get tested, meaning our need will only grow.”
Pritzker asked Becerra to ramp up production and procurement of additional vaccines and called for the prioritization of states and cities with the most cases.
Pritzker has directed 4,600 doses from the state’s supply to help Chicago. The city has already received 3,300 vaccine doses from the federal government. And apart from the doses that are being given to the city from the state’s stockpile, the state has received 2,300 doses for local health departments outside of Chicago, according to the IDPH. The state also plans to send Chicago an additional 2,000 doses in the coming weeks.
But Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said earlier in the week that even the additional 15,400 doses the city is awaiting from the federal government isn’t enough.
“Many, many more people would like to get this vaccine than we have availability for,” she said Tuesday on Facebook Live. “As vaccine supply increases, I expect this will evolve and we will likely recommend it to more individuals.”
For now, the city is prioritizing the vaccine only for those who have had close physical contact or were intimate with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox, including those who are gay, bisexual, or a man who has sex with men who have had sexual contact with other men in a social venue, or have multiple anonymous partners and may not be able to adequately contact trace.
The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday said it plans to “strengthen and accelerate” its strategy on combatting monkeypox and work with public health officials to get vaccines, testing and treatments out to communities across the country. HHS on July 15 placed an order for another 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS vaccine to respond to the outbreak and strengthen the country’s preparedness for the virus. That followed a July 1 order for 2.5 million doses that will begin arriving in the Strategic National Stockpile over the next year.
Vaccine event Monday
The level of turnout for those waiting for a monkeypox vaccine outside Test Positive Aware Network in Edgewater earlier this week quickly outnumbered the 100 doses the nonprofit had available.
TPAN CEO Kara Eastman said the nonprofit was prepared for high demand, but the level of turnout was “overwhelming.” TPAN, at 5335 N. Broadway, plans to offer more vaccines on a first-come, first-served basis from 2 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday.
“The severity and the concern and urgency to get vaccinated has really come up very quickly, because it got close to home really fast,” said Kal Jazeera, who was waiting in line at TPAN. “I currently know one person with monkeypox and I know about eight to 10 people who have been exposed.”
Dr. Anu Hazra of Howard Brown Health Center said the nonprofit LGBTQ health care provider has been “inundated with calls” from as many as 200 people a day looking for testing or a vaccine.
In addition to testing and vaccines, Hazra is recommending that people consider tightening their sexual networks. As a sexual health doctor, he said he will never tell people to stop having sex, but he said it’s important to think carefully about sexual interactions right now and to not have sex if you’re experiencing symptoms.
People diagnosed with monkeypox tend to experience flu-like symptoms, followed by a rash that can look like pimples or blisters. While there are no known deaths from the illness, for some the lesions can be quite painful, officials said.
Tina Sfondeles is the chief political reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ.