How has Arizona used the CDC's monkeypox vaccine pilot program?

Published: Monday, November 7, 2022 - 4:06pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a new monkeypox vaccine pilot program in September. Its aim was to get monkeypox vaccines to communities most vulnerable to the virus’ spread. 

From the beginning, the supply of monkeypox vaccines was limited. The virus disproportionately affects some communities, which makes a custom approach necessary, according to Carla Berg, Deputy Director for Public Health Services at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Organizations that are serving the LGBTQ+, communities of color are being prioritized,” Berg said. “Especially those that don’t already have available monkeypox vaccine in that community.”

Having a model for vaccine distribution from the COVID-19 pandemic helped the initial rollout. However, monkeypox disproportionately affects some communities, which made a custom approach necessary, said Dr. Nick Staab, an epidemiologist with Maricopa County Public Health.

Berg said the CDC’s pilot program was one of several tools to accomplish that goal because it made distributing additional vaccines, on top of state allocations, possible.

“One thing in terms of public health impacts is we always are leveraging our data to best identify where there may be disparities,” Berg said.

Staab said that by using the program to identify where vaccines were most needed, monkeypox vaccines were able to be more effectively distributed to curb case counts.

“We do think that our vaccination efforts, those initial efforts, really did get those at highest risk and helped bring down cases,” Staab said.

The Southwest Center and Phoenix Pride teamed up to hold an event through the program. The Southwest Center’s senior director of Healthcare Operations, Casey Simon, said the community response reflected a trust in science, and the value of providing stigma-free care.

“We saw a community that said, ‘We trust you. We trust our healthcare providers and our healthcare professionals, and we wanna do what we can to protect ourselves, our community, and others,’” he said.

Five hundred and thirty-seven individuals were vaccinated against monkeypox at the Oct. 1 event. Simon said stigma-free care is important, but so is remembering that monkeypox can affect anyone.

“As a medical community and as a whole, what we cannot be ignorant to is the fact that it is not only a virus or an issue for the LGBTQ+ community,” Simon said.

Health + Medicine