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4 Coachella Valley leaders call for incr …

4 Coachella Valley leaders call for increase in monkeypox vaccines to protect LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable residents

Palm Springs, CA – Coachella Valley health and community leaders are raising awareness at the state level about an inadequate allocation of monkeypox vaccines being distributed to serve one of the region's most vulnerable populations: the LGBTQ+ community.

DAP Health and the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation recently joined forces to create a full-page advertisement in the Sacramento Bee that is designed to get state legislators' attention. Both the City of Palm Springs and Desert Care Network are featured in the ad as community partners supporting the effort.

Scheduled for publication Sunday, August 14, the ad urgently calls for an immediate increase of vaccines for LGBTQ+ residents to prevent further spread of the virus. As of Wednesday, August 10, Riverside County Public Health had identified about 70 cases of monkeypox that were either confirmed or under investigation in the Coachella Valley -- twice as many as the prior week.

While anyone can contract monkeypox, early infections since the outbreak in May primarily have been among men who have sex with men. Gay and lesbian Californians account for 91.1 percent of monkeypox cases in the state, while residents who identify as bisexual are 5.9 percent, according to the California Department of Public Health. In Palm Springs, where LGBTQ+ residents comprise 40 percent to 60 percent of the population, a large part of the community remains at-risk.

The ad also informs newspaper readers that the Palm Springs area is a popular destination for thousands of LGBTQ+ visitors each year. More than 30 LGBTQ+ events have been planned for this summer.

“As the state calibrates its response to the monkeypox outbreak, I urge them to give due consideration to the unique risk factors that will predispose regions, such as the Coachella Valley, to higher levels of exposure and infection from monkeypox,” said David Brinkman, DAP Health CEO. “At present, the state has focused its response on a region’s confirmed monkeypox cases as well as the number of early syphilis cases among men. These metrics are lagging indicators. They don’t capture where the exposure is occurring.  Because the data is captured at an individual’s local clinic, these metrics simply capture where an individual resides. This does nothing to prevent exposure or infection from occurring in the first place. Focusing on regions with high-risk factors is necessary to end this outbreak.”

The Biden Administration has declared monkeypox as a national public health emergency, and Gov. Gavin Newsom recently recognized it as a state emergency. However, because the current vaccine distribution model prioritizes large cities, and the national vaccine supply is limited, Coachella Valley communities are receiving far fewer doses than needed. For example, DAP Health, a leader in the local monkeypox response, has administered 648 vaccine doses to date. It expects delivery of another 292 doses this week. The Desert Healthcare District and Foundation has not received any vaccine doses.

“As a healthcare district, one of the most important things we did early on during our COVID-19 response was to remove every barrier that prevents equitable access to prevention and care,” said Conrado Bárzaga, Desert Healthcare District and Foundation CEO. “That’s what we’re called to do without judgment or stigma. The lack of awareness by the state about our community and how it's vulnerable to the monkeypox virus is a tremendous barrier. We have to change it.”

Media requests can be sent to Will Dean with the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation, wdean@dhcd.org, and Steven Henke with DAP Health at SHenke@daphealth.org.

About the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation

The Desert Healthcare District is a local government agency formed in 1948. Its mission is to achieve optimal health at all stages of life for all District residents. The District includes more than 400,000 residents and encompasses the entire Coachella Valley. The District and Desert Healthcare Foundation, together, are one of the largest funders in the valley. These funds are used to assist residents — especially the underserved — in accessing vitally needed resources, such as primary and behavioral healthcare. Learn more at dhcd.org.

Learn more about DAP Health.

Monkeypox is an Emergency

A State of Emergency with a Solution: Prioritize LGBTQ+ Health Equity Today  

We went from 1 monkeypox case in May to 5,000+ preventable cases today. I am devastated by how many people are in horrific pain. Pain and suffering could have been avoided had the U.S. followed its own predictions and prepared to respond.

Since the 2003 U.S. monkeypox outbreak, experts predicted another. And as HIV and COVID taught us, an outbreak would dominate in marginalized populations who face barriers to health equity.   

We are now in a state of emergency as declared by WHO (World Health Organization) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.    

The emergency is the rapid spread, but that is not where the emergency ends:   

The emergency is that prior to this outbreak, the US had an effective monkeypox test, effective medications, and an effective vaccine, yet our highest-risk populations still do not have access to it.   

The emergency is that many people, presently infected with monkeypox, are experiencing severe pain; pain so significant that eating and eliminating waste requires pain medication and in some cases, hospitalization.  

The emergency is that even prior to this outbreak, organized political discrimination against LGBTQ+ populations has been steadily increasing.   

DAP Health was founded because many in power failed our community. While AIDS attacked us from one side, apathy, and hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community slowed the response, leaving us alone with a virus that robbed us of loved ones.   

It took until July 23 for the WHO to declare monkeypox a global health emergency - stating it was partly because the disease had not moved out of the primary risk group, men who have sex with men. Sadly, it should come as no surprise the US response remains slow and inadequate for LGBTQ+ community members worried about contracting monkeypox and to the thousands of people who have already been diagnosed.   

The only reason the monkeypox virus has not been contained is that the U.S. has yet to treat this threat to the health of gay, bisexual, and transgender people as the health emergency it is. New York and San Fransisco, both early in the response to HIV and COVID, have declared a state of emergency. Like DAP Health, they have been here before and they know that now is the time for a coordinated and swift response.   

DAP Health, with a patient population of 10,000, has only received 497 doses of vaccine and has yet to receive the TPOXX medication for treatment. Our nation’s LGBTQ+ community health centers, with a history of treating the community’s physical and mental health; with expertise in addressing stigma and discrimination, are most likely to reach those at risk for monkeypox, and yet, we are being overlooked and under-resourced.    

There is a solution to this health emergency:  

LGBTQ+ organizations should be the priority for vaccine supply and medications for treatment; because our approach strengthens the LGBTQ+ community. To end monkeypox, we must confront the discrimination in the US that has enabled this preventable crisis.   

LGBTQ+ health equity goes beyond a “shot in the arm.”  Our approach addresses the health disparities faced by LGBTQ+ communities by incorporating free HIV and STI testing and treatment, free PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) services, and access to affordable primary care, mental health, and substance use recovery.   

Every one of us needs to do our part. Let our elected officials know there is NO EXCUSE for another week of cases doubling while people suffer in excruciating pain. Let our elected officials know we are in a state of emergency and that the time has come to prioritize LGBTQ+ health equity. 

Here is an update about how we are prioritizing the distribution of the doses received and how we continue to respond to the current health emergency.  

DAP Health administered all 160 doses provided in our first allotment from the Riverside Department of Public Health.  

On Friday, DAP Health received 337 additional doses. High-risk DAP Health patients and community members who fit the current priority guidelines received an invitation to schedule an appointment for the JYNNEOS vaccine.   

DAP Health’s monkeypox hotline launched on August 1, and we are adding invitation-only Saturday vaccine clinics beginning August 6.  

DAP Health MPX Hotline: 760-656-8432 or MPOX@daphealth.org   

To stay up to date on the latest developments regarding Monkeypox please visit our landing page: daphealth.org/monkeypox 

 

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