Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday said state and federal officials are doing everything they can to turn a massive gay-pride event in New Orleans into a model for combatting monkeypox through education and vaccine distribution.
The administration is sending thousands of extra Jynneos vaccine doses to the Southern Decadence festival, which is returning from a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Edwards said he expects tens of thousands of people to descend on New Orleans over the Labor Day weekend from all over the state and country.
Most of the 18,000 monkeypox cases recorded in the U.S. have been in gay and bisexual men, so the Biden administration is placing a special emphasis on gay-pride events from coast to coast.
“Being able to prepare for that and to get a head start on the vaccinations, on the testing, on the communications — all extremely important,” Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, said during a White House monkeypox briefing. “There’s no doubt we will learn lessons over the weekend that we can then share with other folks around the country and help them to do an even better job of preparing for similar events.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said extra vaccine shipments to Southern Decadence and the Black Pride Festival in Atlanta this weekend will allow for up to 5,000 vaccinations at each event.
Mr. Becerra said doses being sent to events in Oakland, California, will allow for 2,400 additional vaccinations, and future festivals will get doses, too.
The Biden administration and local officials have been careful to say that anyone can get monkeypox to avoid stigmatizing the gay community, but it is focusing resources on gay social networks that have been hit the hardest.
The administration is under intense pressure to wrangle monkeypox, a virus that is endemic to parts of Africa but started spreading in the U.S. and other non-endemic countries in mid-spring. Experts say it would be a remarkable public health failure if the virus becomes a fixture in America.
Federal officials haven’t reported any monkeypox deaths this year, though Texas officials this week reported that a Houston area patient with “various severe illnesses” had tested positive for monkeypox and died recently.
It is unclear what, if any, role monkeypox played and there will be an autopsy, Harris County Public Health said.
Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director for high-consequence pathogens at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the patient had “a number of things going on and I think that additional investigation is needed to understand what role monkeypox may or may not have played in their death.”
“I think it’s important to emphasize that deaths due to monkeypox, while possible, remain very rare. In most cases, people are experiencing infections that resolve over time,” she said.
The pace of the rise in monkeypox cases is slowing down in places like New York and San Francisco, though the administration is trying to step on the gas and distribute vaccines to all at-risk persons.
Robert Fenton, the White House monkeypox coordinator, said three-quarters of the country is using an intradermal method that allows vaccinators to get five doses out of a single vial — instead of just one — while inducing a similar immune response as shots that are given deeper into the arm.
Mr. Fenton said the dose-sparing technique and increased supply have put the U.S. in a position to give two doses to an estimated 1.6 million Americans considered at high risk of catching monkeypox.
While supply ramps up, the CDC says people can reduce their exposure to monkeypox by reducing sex partners and visits to back rooms, saunas, sex clubs, or private and public sex parties, where intimate, often anonymous sexual contact with multiple partners occurs
The virus is related to smallpox and features a rash with painful lesions. A small percentage of cases are fatal, though the CDC hasn’t reported any deaths from monkeypox in the U.S. this year.
The virus spread through close personal contact, which can include sexual contact, but it is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection.