Local health officials to the feds: Where is the rest of our monkeypox vaccine?

Los Angeles County health officials found out Tuesday that the federal government has cut the county’s requested and expected monkeypox vaccine allocation by 60%.

Last week, the FDA asked health care providers to split one-dose vials of monkeypox vaccine into five doses. The move was good news for vaccine-strapped cities across the country because it meant what little supplies were available could be stretched further.

But then L.A. County and other cities and states were told they would receive significantly less vaccine than requested. L.A. County expected to receive 14,000 vials of vaccine this week, which, if split, would have provided 70,000 doses to eligible residents. Instead, the county will receive 5,600 vials, which will yield only 28,000 doses.

At a news conference last week, L.A. County health officials said they expected a full shipment and could fully vaccinate 90,000 people with it — about half of what it believes is an at-risk population. With much lower vaccine doses now, it could take weeks to reach that goal.

Monkeypox cases in LA County rise to more than 990 Most cases are between men who have sex with men. California has reported 2,358 cases statewide, second only to New York among states in the number of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Genios is a smallpox vaccine that can also be used to prevent monkeypox in ongoing outbreaks. Full-vial doses are injected into muscle tissue, but giving a small dose between the layers of the skin — known as an intradermal injection — is also effective in preventing painful viral infections.

Federal officials’ shift from vial allocation to dose allocation surprised local public health officials. The administration is responsible for vaccine distribution for strategic preparedness and response within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Other locations with active outbreaks have also been told to expect significantly fewer vaccine vials in the next shipment. Philadelphia officials expected to receive 3,600 vials but instead received more than 700.

“We have thousands of people who are at risk who should be vaccinated prophylactically before exposure,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigol said Tuesday. “We are advising our federal partners to reconsider and restore the allocation of vaccines in Philadelphia, which is urgently needed.”

LA County was an early adopter of the new dosage and injection technique.

“We communicated that Public Health will implement these changes when the next round of doses is available, but if providers feel ready to implement the new strategy, they may proceed,” the department’s statement said.

The LA County Department of Public Health said it had received assurances from federal leadership that more doses would be available in the coming weeks. But lower doses mean eligibility for scarce vaccines will remain tight.

LA County has a population of 10 million, and public health officials estimate about 180,000 are at high risk of monkeypox. The virus causes painful skin lesions and is spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has lesions. Although anyone can contract monkeypox, gay and bisexual men who have had multiple partners in the past two weeks are at the highest risk of this outbreak. According to the CDC, there are more than 13,500 identified cases in the United States as of August 17.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KPCC/LAistNPR, and KHN.

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