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Black, Hispanic people disproportionately suffer monkeypox but fewer are getting the vaccine, early

Black and Hispanic people are disproportionately contracting monkeypox virus – but fewer are getting the vaccine, according to early data.

About 17,400 cases of the virus have been identified across the nation since May. Black people make up about a third of cases, compared with their 12% share of the overall population, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Similarly, Hispanic or Latino people make up about 32% of cases, despite making up 19% of the population, according to data as of Aug. 14.

During a Friday briefing, White House officials reported Black people received only 10% of shots against monkeypox, Hispanic people received 22%, and white people received about 47%.

Several days after the data was released, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced an equity intervention pilot program aimed at ensuring vaccines reach high-risk individuals facing barriers to access.

The administration said 10,000 vials of vaccine will be allocated to targeted, smaller-scale equity interventions. They hope to get more vaccines to people who cannot access online appointment scheduling and those who face stigma related to attending public vaccine events that may require disclosure of sexual identity. Distribution will also focus on locations that reach Black and Latino LGBTQ individuals.

Such efforts are similar to those health-disparity experts have been calling for. The experts have been aware of problems with monkeypox vaccine equity and have said grassroots, culturally sensitive and individualized targeted programs are needed to help close the gap.

They also see parallels in COVID vaccine disparities in the latest monkeypox data.

“You can superimpose COVID, and the data would be very similar, unfortunately,” said Dr. Jonathan Appelbaum, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Medicine. “It’s just a microcosm of the health inequity in this country.”

Groups have been calling for help. This month, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement reporting the racial disparities and imploring equitable response.

A Kaiser Family Foundation report said only four states – Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey and North Carolina – and Washington, D.C., are reporting monkeypox vaccination by race and ethnicity. The CDC says its vaccination data come from 18 states and one city, and that only about half of states reported race and ethnicity for cases.

In New Jersey, Black people make up a quarter of the state's monkeypox cases and just 14% of vaccine recipients, according to the KFF analysis. Hispanic people account for 40% of cases, but a quarter of vaccinations.

Experts say more complete data is essential to understanding who needs treatment and where to focus efforts to reduce harm and cultivate trust.

Anyone can contract the disease. The current outbreak has been primarily among men who have sex with men. While the data are limited and can change, experts say it raises concerns about inequities in vaccine access, stigmatization and barriers faced by the marginalized groups.

Dr. Maya Green, a physician and chief medical officer at Howard Brown Health in Chicago, said Black communities like hers already struggle with health care access disparities.

“We can’t be surprised. We know this is historically what happens,” she said, pointing to COVID-19 and other diseases. “Our system has had super trouble moving from equity talks into action.”

Black LGBTQ people and other LGBTQ people of color grapple with additional layers of stigma. Some may not have been open about their lifestyles, and after contracting the virus, may "stay at home and wait for it to go away in shame," she said.

Appelbaum is a former medical director of the Fenway Community Health Center, run by the Boston-based Fenway Institute, which specializes in health and well-being of LGBTQ people and people with HIV. He said gay people of color struggle with specific barriers.


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