PROVINCETOWN — Nationwide, the news about monkeypox continues to get worse. Case counts are still doubling every 10 days or so: 42 in Massachusetts, 156 in New York, and 9,647 globally as of July 11, according to the CDC.
Testing is limited, the vaccine supply is still constrained, and, while no one in the outbreak countries (now including most of Europe and the Americas) has died, the disease is painful, with reports emerging of people being hospitalized for pain management.
Against this backdrop, Provincetown received a major dose of good news — 900 doses, to be exact. The Biden Administration’s release of 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine resulted in 1,800 doses coming to Massachusetts. Half of that allotment came directly to Outer Cape Health Services in Provincetown, said state Sen. Julian Cyr, and public health workers launched a campaign to get eligible people vaccinated.
According to the CDC, “presumed contacts” eligibility includes “presumed contacts,” which is currently defined as a man who has sex with men, has had multiple partners in the last few weeks, and is in an area where the virus is spreading.
Because there have been cases in Provincetown, any gay man here with multiple recent partners meets that threshold.
The town’s health workers aimed their vaccine campaign at those men, especially those who work in hospitality for the short summer season.
“We were able to vaccinate so many of the people in our community who could be at highest risk from this,” said Cyr. “Monkeypox is unlikely to be fatal, but it could be devastating to your livelihood. Given the isolation and recovery period, you could lose three or more weeks of work.”
Provincetown’s health dept. alerted business owners about the vaccination campaign, while the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod and other groups used their networks of service industry workers to get the word out. The health dept. also posted the news on social media. Hundreds of people were vaccinated at OCHS Provincetown on July 7, 8, and 9, and the organization is now keeping a waiting list for the arrival of the next batch of the Jynneos vaccine, expected later this week.
“We’re encouraging all eligible individuals to call Outer Cape Health and make an appointment,” said Cyr.
Eligibility criteria could change, but for the time being, the focus remains on men who have sex with men. Though there is a possibility of monkeypox transmission in intimate nonsexual settings — to roommates, health-care providers, housekeepers, or family members — actual case data in this year’s outbreak have not yet shown significant transmission along those lines.
According to a July 6 World Health Organization report, 99.5 percent of the cases for which data exist are in males; only 25 out of thousands of cases are in health-care workers; and only six out of 5,584 cases are in minors. The fact that women, children, and health-care workers have not been getting the virus — during this outbreak, at least — helps explain why the vaccination campaign has been tightly focused so far.
That global transmission pattern has been playing out locally, Cyr confirmed.
“The town has been very deliberate in all the information it’s put out,” said Cyr. “This is truly playing out like a sexually transmitted infection. That’s still the case — there’s no new evidence there.”