This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Sylvester Brown Jr. 

The federal government has declared monkeypox a public health emergency, and Missouri raised its threat level rating on August 18, 2022.

Both actions are applauded by Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of the city’s health department.

“Usually, such declarations have meant that additional resources will be available to help with an outbreak,” Hlatshwayo Davis said in a release.

“Vaccine demand for the virus has significantly outpaced current supplies and the Department of Health is hoping [the] declaration is a signal that more help is on the way to state and local governments.”

Monkeypox is a rare illness caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is part of the family of viruses which includes smallpox. Because vaccine supplies are limited, health officials have taken precautionary stepsto fend off the spread of monkeypox across Missouri. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. monkeypox usually appears one to two weeks after infection, but sometimes this can extend to three weeks.

It often begins with flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes, then progresses to a rash. It can spread through intimate physical contact; touching personal items such as clothing or linens; skin-to-skin contact with rash, scabs, or bodily fluids; or respiratory droplets spread through kissing or coughing. Illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

The outbreak has predominantly impacted men who have sex with men and its spread has mostly been found to be transmitted during sex. Health officials have said that those who participate in high-risk sexual behaviors such as multiple partners and transactional sex should be prioritized for the vaccine.

African Americans comprise 26% of all monkeypox cases compared to 12% of the American population.

As with COVID-19 and other treatable illnesses, the monkeypox virus impacts minority populations disproportionately.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data from 43states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, revealing that African Americans comprise 26% of all monkeypox cases compared to 12% of the American population.

The CDC also noted that Hispanic people accounted for 28% of cases while comprising 19% of the population.

The virus, however, doesn’t seem to be spreading widely in the St. Louis region, yet. As of August 18, the CDC reported 24 cases in Missouri, up from 18 the previous week. There were eight confirmed cases in St. Louis County and 11 in St. Louis according to the city and county health departments. 

Dr. Joseph Cherabie is a Barnes-Jewish Hospital doctor who specializes in sexual health care with a focus on the LGBTQIA community. Last week Cherabie told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that more people are coming into area emergency rooms or clinics with the painful lesions associated with monkeypox, or concerns they were exposed.

This week, the Biden-Harris administration announced it would increase America’s supply of monkeypox vaccine by making an additional1.8 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine available for ordering beginning Monday, Aug. 22.

My hope is that, that announcement translates quickly into available doses to DHSS and subsequently to us.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of st. louis health department.

With news of additional doses of the vaccine, Administration officials stated: 

“Since the first case was confirmed in the United States, the Administration has led a whole-of-government response to make tests, vaccines, and treatments more widely available to communities across the country and has worked with the LGBTQI+ community to provide information and resources directly to communities most at risk of contracting the virus.” 

Davis expressed cautious optimism about the government’s release of additional monkeypox vaccines:

“Without a formative plan from DHSS (Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services) it makes me hopeful, but we won’t be able to definitely plan for or announce expansion until that time,” she said.

“My hope is that, that announcement translates quickly into available doses to DHSS and subsequently to us.”

Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.