The Biden administration said on Friday that there is now enough monkeypox vaccine available, but health officials say vaccines are not reaching some of the people who need protection most.
About 10 percent of monkeypox vaccine doses were given to blacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although they account for a third of U.S. cases. The new data comes from 17 states and two cities and represents the most comprehensive information available on who received the two-dose vaccines. Several states and cities have previously reported similar discrepancies.
Most cases of monkeypox in the US have been reported in men who have sex with men, but officials stressed that anyone can contract the virus.
The experts suggested several possible explanations for the discrepancy. This may have to do with how and where vaccines are offered and advertised. Some blacks may not trust doctors and government public health efforts. Or they may be less likely to identify as a person at higher risk of contracting the disease.
The gap echoes the inequalities seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, when certain racial groups accounted for a disproportionate share of cases but a smaller proportion of people initially vaccinated, said Dr. Ivens Laborde, director of global health education at Ochsner. Health in New Orleans.
“If we’re not careful, the same thing will happen here” with monkeypox, he said.
Available information suggests that the number of cases of monkeypox among black men is on the rise, said Caitlin Rivers, an expert on government response to epidemics at Johns Hopkins University.
“This is a problem that is not being solved,” she said.
The Biden administration said on Friday it had shipped enough monkeypox vaccine to deliver the first of two doses to the highest-risk group. It is estimated that there are 1.6 million men who have sex with other men, but the CDC does not give a racial separation. The administration expects that by the end of next month there will be enough for the second doses.
Earlier this month, health officials approved a plan to allow smaller doses of the vaccine to be injected into the skin rather than muscles, helping to boost supplies. The Administration says that this new method, which requires about one-fifth of the usual dose, has now shipped enough vaccine for at least 1.6 million doses.
Only 14 of 67 jurisdictions have used enough of the vaccine to request more from the federal stockpile, according to the administration.
Some experts say health officials should ensure black men have greater access to vaccinations, testing, treatment and other types of information and care.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, speaking at a White House briefing, said her agency has taken steps to expand access. Vaccines and educational materials will be available at upcoming Black Pride events in Atlanta and Southern Decadence in New Orleans.
“When we start rolling out these pilot projects, we see that they are working,” she said.
The government has not previously shared the demographics of vaccine recipients because such sharing of information is voluntary. The figures released on Friday reflect approximately 208,000 doses administered as of the beginning of this week, out of more than 1 million doses shipped. Age, gender, race and ethnicity information was not available to every recipient.
But based on the available information, the data shows:
- About half of the vaccine recipients were white and about a quarter were Hispanic. About 10 percent were black and another 10 percent were Asian.
- About 94 percent were identified as male and 6 percent as female.
- More than half of them were between the ages of 25 and 39.
The gaps at the national level mirror those seen in statistics from Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Washington, DC. In all four regions, black men accounted for many or most cases, but they made up a smaller proportion of vaccine recipients.
Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where humans become infected through the bites of rodents or small animals. The disease was not thought to spread easily among humans until May, when infections emerged in Europe and the US.
More than 45,000 cases have been reported in countries where monkeypox has not historically been reported.
The United States has the most infections of any country, with more than 16,000. About 98 percent of cases in the United States are men, and about 93 percent are men who have reported recent sexual contact with other men. No one has died in the US, but deaths have been reported in other countries.
Officials say the virus is spread primarily by skin-to-skin contact, but they warn it can be spread in other ways, including touching bedding used by monkeypox patients.