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No plans for mandates in Pima County as monkeypox cases increase
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No plans for mandates in Pima County as monkeypox cases increase

Vaccine supply remains low

  • A patient with monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997. The rash is common with the disease, which is endemic to parts of West and Central Africa.
    CDCA patient with monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997. The rash is common with the disease, which is endemic to parts of West and Central Africa.

Cases of monkeypox have continued to rise in Pima County, with 18 confirmed as of Monday, but officials have no plans for public health mandates, like those from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current situation with monkeypox is very different from what occurred with COVID-19, Dr. Francisco García, the county's chief medical officer, told the Board of Supervisors.

"At this point there is no consideration of any sort of community-wide mandate," he told the supervisors at a meeting Monday, as confirmed cases stood at 14.

Just over a month since the county reported its first case of the disease, the local monkeypox vaccine supply remains low. The Food and Drug Administration took steps to stretch the number of doses last week.

As of Tuesday, the county had 1,600 doses of the vaccine (based on the new method which splits each vial into five doses), Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department, told the Tucson Sentinel. Another batch of doses is expected at the end of the month

The current situation with monkeypox is very different from what occurred with COVID-19, García said. "At this point there is no consideration of any sort of community-wide mandate," he said.

The county's efforts include education, vaccines and therapeutics for those most at risk and working with healthcare providers, he said. Due to the "relatively low" number of vaccines from the federal government, the county is prioritizing who gets the shots, García told the board.

"In this case the folks who have the greatest risk are men who are having sex with men," he said. "And that is the reason why we are prioritizing vaccine in that way."

More than 600 residents had received the vaccine as of last week, with some of the individuals now eligible for their second dose, as previously reported by the Sentinel.

The FDA provided emergency use authorization last Tuesday for the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine to be given between skin layers compared with under the skin. The method reduces the amount of vaccine needed, which could make five times as many doses available, the press release said.

The county made this new vaccination strategy its "preferred method" this week, Cullen said. "This method is familiar to most of our providers because we use this technique to do TB skin tests," she said.

The county expected another 900 doses this month, with 460 expected to arrive Monday, Cullen said last week.

The county has a vaccine interest form available online for those who have been exposed to the virus or are at risk. The form asks questions like, "In the past 14 days have you been exposed to someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of monkeypox?" Another questions asks, "In the past 14 days, have you had sexual contact, or close physical contact, with more than one man or person assigned male at birth?"

Despite certain groups currently being more at risk, anyone can get the disease, as Cullen told the Sentinel earlier this month. Activity, not sexual orientation, determines how likely it is someone will get the virus, she said.

"Because say you identify as gay, right? But you have one sexual partner, you're not at risk to get monkeypox," Cullen said. "It's your activity that puts you at risk."

Monkeypox symptoms often begin within three weeks of exposure and last roughly two to four weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs of the disease include a rash that may resemble blisters or pimples. Some people experience a fever, muscle ache among other symptoms.

The disease can spread via "skin-to-skin contact" and through infected objects like towels. It's still unclear if asymptomatic spread can occur and if the virus spreads through vaginal fluids or semen, the CDC says.

The University of Arizona starts classes in a week and is preparing for cases of monkeypox in addition to COVID. "I know that the monkeypox virus is on the minds of many people in our community, and we have received messages of concern from students and their families," UA President Robert Robbins said in a press conference Monday.

The university has tests available for students and staff through its Campus Health facility, Robbins said. "And its leaders are working with Pima County to explore treatment and vaccination options," he said.

Monkeypox is not a disease that kills, but it can be painful, Richard Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general, said at the conference. Health precautions that work for the flu and COVID also work with monkeypox, he said, like handwashing and sick individuals limiting their contact with others.

"The public health mitigation strategies we've all become expert in the last two and a half to three years are going to help us with monkeypox as well," said Carmona, a distinguished public health professor at the university.

The virus is rarely fatal, even as cases climb. There have been 12 confirmed deaths from monkeypox worldwide out of the nearly 31,800 infections, according to data from the CDC. The World Health Organization declared the disease to be a "public health emergency of international concern" late last month, followed by a national public health emergency declaration earlier this month.

There have been more than 11,000 confirmed monkeypox cases in the United States as of Friday afternoon, according to the CDC. Of those, 170 have been in Arizona.

Pima County keeps an active count of local monkeypox cases online that's updated daily. Free testing is available at the Health Department's North Clinic at 3550 N. 1st Ave.

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