Health Department expands access to monkeypox vaccine | Pittsburgh City Paper

Health Department expands access to monkeypox vaccine

The Allegheny Health Department today announced expanded access to the monkeypox vaccine for people who have had a high-risk exposure to the virus.

According to a Health Department release, in addition to the department’s immunization clinic, the primary care providers listed below are currently offering the monkeypox vaccine to those who have been identified as having a high-risk exposure to a person who has been diagnosed with monkeypox. Vaccine eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Community health care providers that are offering the vaccine:

  • Central Outreach Wellness Center (127 Anderson St., Suite 101, North Side)
  • Allies for Health + Wellbeing (5913 Penn Ave., East Liberty)
  • Metro Community Health Center (1789 S Braddock Ave., #410, Swissvale)

AHN Positive Health Clinic (1307 Federal St., North Side) is only vaccinating current patients.

The department has confirmed its twentieth monkeypox case among county residents. The first case of monkeypox identified in Allegheny County occurred at the end of June.

“The Health Department is offering the JYNNEOS vaccine to individuals at our Immunization Clinic who have had a high-risk exposure,” says ACHD medical epidemiologist Dr. Kristen Mertz. “The vaccine can prevent disease if given within four days of exposure to the virus. In some circumstances, the vaccine may be offered after four days in discussion with a vaccine provider.”

The ACHD reports it is also developing a plan with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health for expanding vaccine eligibility and clinic sites as it obtains more vaccines from the federal government.

Monkeypox is a contagious disease caused by the same family of viruses (orthopoxvirus) that causes smallpox. ACHD says monkeypox symptoms are similar to those of smallpox but milder and rarely fatal.

An individual can get the virus when they come into contact with the sores, scabs, or body fluids of an infected person. Infections occur through close, intimate situations, such as cuddling, kissing, and sexual contact, and by touching contaminated materials, such as clothing, bedding, and other linens used by an infected person.

“A rash typically develops a few days after the early symptoms of monkeypox,” states Mertz. “However, not all individuals infected with monkeypox develop symptoms prior to rash. It is critical that people who believe they were exposed to the virus and develop a rash get tested to limit the spread of the disease.”

Symptoms of the monkeypox virus can manifest in a variety of ways. Early symptoms of monkeypox include rash, fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.

“The Health Department is closely monitoring the developing monkeypox situation to ensure we are prepared to respond as it develops,” explains ACHD Clinical Services Deputy Director Dr. Barbara Nightingale. “We are evaluating those who believe they have been in close contact with the virus or may have monkeypox themselves to make sure that individuals have access to testing, vaccination, and medication options.”

If a resident, or someone they know, believes they came in close contact with the monkeypox virus and is eligible for the vaccine, they should contact their primary care provider or the ACHD by calling 412-687-ACHD (412-687-2243).

All residents diagnosed with monkeypox will be contacted by ACHD public health staff who will provide guidance and resources. The Health Department is also working on contact tracing with the affected individuals.

If you develop lesions and believe you may have been exposed to monkeypox, the Health Department advises you to get tested for monkeypox. Testing is available throughout the county, the department says, and residents are encouraged to contact their primary care provider to get a monkeypox test.

Residents who do not have a primary care provider can get tested without an appointment at the county’s Public Health Clinic located at 1908 Wylie Ave., Hill District. Clinic hours are Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from noon to 7:30 p.m. To learn more about the Public Health Clinic, visit its webpage.

The Health Department says some residents have inquired about whether the monkeypox virus will have the same effect on the community and country as the COVID-19 pandemic. ACHD director Dr. Debra Bogen says that monkeypox requires much closer contact with an infected person for the virus to spread.

“The contagiousness of monkeypox is very different from COVID-19,” says Bogen. “It is spread through much closer contact with someone who is infected with the virus and is not airborne.”

According to ACHD, the most effective means of prevention against contracting monkeypox are:

  • Avoid contact with people who may be infected
  • Avoid contact with bedding and other materials contaminated with the virus
  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact with someone with a rash
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for infected persons
  • Practice safe sex
  • Wash your hands with soap and water

The Health Department’s nurses are available to answer questions, as well as provide guidance and resources to anyone who believes they have come in contact with monkeypox. They can be contacted by calling 412-687-ACHD (412-687-2243).

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