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Connecticut monkeypox vaccination clinics see strong demand on first day, ‘prevention is the key here’

Originally posted at Hartford Courant

The response was heavy to the opening of the state’s monkeypox vaccination clinics Monday, according to representatives of the sites designated by the state.

Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said 13 of the 15 sites had opened and were taking appointments. She and others, however, called for more doses of the vaccine to be delivered to the state.

“It’s been a little bit crazy, a lot of interest,” said Michael DeWolfe, spokesman for Anchor Health in Hamden, which is an LGBTQ-focused health care facility. “We’ve gotten over 200 calls” from people seeking the monkeypox vaccine, he said. The Stamford facility is not giving out vaccines, he said.

Natalie Bycenski, senior nurse manager and immunization and infection control specialist for the Community Health Center, said the company has six sites offering the vaccine: Clinton, Danbury, Enfield, Middletown, New London and Stamford.

“We started vaccinating today at all six of those locations,” she said.

“The response has been pretty positive,” she said. “We’ve been getting calls from the local health departments that are reaching out to us for those patients who have known exposure and are contact traced.” Others have been referred from the state health department, she said.

“Once we have a known positive case of monkeypox, the health departments and DPH are reaching out to that individual who is a known case” to locate people who may have been exposed in order to give them the Jynneos vaccine.

People with symptoms or who have had monkeypox are not eligible for the vaccine. Eligible people must be Connecticut residents and 18 or older but do not need to be citizens or to have insurance.

They must be gay, bisexual, a man who has had sex with men, be someone who is transgender, gender-nonconforming or nonbinary and who have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days, Others without symptoms must have had close personal contact with someone who has the disease within 14 days.

Dr. Suzanne Lagarde, CEO of Fair Haven Community Health Care in New Haven, said, “the demand is strong for sure.”

Karen Nemiah, Fair Haven spokeswoman, said their four-hour clinics were full for Monday and Tuesday. “We had 16 today and we have another 16 scheduled for tomorrow morning,” she said. The clinic has 60 doses available, she said.

Fair Haven Community Health Care, like other clinics, is taking people by appointment only. The 15 clinics’ phone numbers and websites are listed on the DPH monkeypox website.

“It’s hard to know how it’s going to project out. We’re working on our first shipment.” She said that future clinics will depend on how many doses the clinic can get from the state. “Obviously we need to make sure we have our inventory and we are vaccinating people who are coming in, self-identified and making an appointment, as well as people coming in from DPH,” Nemiah said.

Anthony Crisci, interim executive director at Circle Care Center in Norwalk, said, “We’ve given out a couple dozen [doses] so far. We’ve had about 400 requests in the last few days for appointments.” He said the clinic, which also emphasizes care to the LGBTQ communities, received 100 doses in the first shipment.

Crisci said appointments are being made Monday through Friday. “We’ve been getting nonstop calls,” he said. “Right now, our next available appointment is the week of Aug. 22. We’re excited to be able to help get the vaccine out but we need more doses and we need more vaccination sites online.”

Christine Bianchi of StayWell Health Center in Waterbury, said the facility has received 50 doses, which will be given out on Wednesday. Ten of the doses are reserved for people referred by the state, she said. She said StayWell has received 60 calls for the vaccine.

Juthani, who said Monday “is a very important day for us today in the state of Connecticut. in our monkeypox response,” said there are 33 cases in the state so far.

Juthani said the state has received 1,700 doses so far and that the state can order an additional 4,000 doses.

“This effort to expand vaccination to those beyond those who are just in immediate contact of a known case to those who could be at high risk of having had a contact is a first step in our effort to curb the expansion of the monkeypox virus within our state and within our community,” Juthani said.

She, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and other leaders in the health care field said the state needs more doses of the vaccine. Blumenthal called on the federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act to manufacture more.

“Clearly, the World Health Organization declaring a public health emergency is a call to act. If we’ve learned nothing else from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is to be rapid, be robust, be relentless,” he said. “And right now, the federal government is failing to effectively address this potential public health crisis.”

Blumenthal said the United States needs more vaccines. The United States has 1.1 million doses, enough to cover one-third of the at-risk population, he said, and will receive another 500,000 from Denmark in October.

“We can’t wait. We need it now,” Blumenthal said. “The federal government has the raw material for 11 million doses. It should put those raw materials to work right away through the Defense Production Act and make sure this vaccine is available.

“Prevention is the key here,” Blumenthal continued. ‘Prevention is the coin of the realm when you’re talking about infectious disease. It will save money in the long term to invest now. Pay now or pay later. That’s the rule of infectious disease. And right now, the United States of America is failing to invest in the way that it should with the magnitude and urgency of response that is necessary.”

The vaccine is given in two doses, 28 days apart. Juthani said five commercial labs are assisting the state with testing.