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Baltimore rolls out monkeypox vaccine to ‘highest risk’ residents

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Bethany Raja
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Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Thompson Dzirasa discusses the monkeypox vaccine roll out in the city.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said it’s not true that the city has a stockpile of monkeypox vaccines that aren’t being distributed during a press conference at Chase Brexton Health Care in the Mt Vernon neighborhood.

Baltimore City has received 200 doses of the vaccine which are given by appointment only and many of the vaccines are already allocated.

“We’re actively working to distribute those 200 doses in an equitable way to those individuals at highest risk of contracting and spreading monkeypox in Baltimore,” Dzirasa said.

Monkeypox is a virus that spreads between people through very close contact. Symptoms may include a fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and potentially rashes and lesions on the face and hands. Most people recover within a month and the incubation period is between five days to three weeks.

The Maryland Department of Health was sent 6,519 doses from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response.

Statewide there are 87 confirmed cases of monkeypox, of which 21 are in the city of Baltimore.

As a Black woman, mother, doctor and health commissioner, Dzirasa said she is uniquely qualified to understand healthcare inequities, and the city’s strategy is focused on reaching the truly marginalized.

“Like the resident that’s dependent on transactional sex to make rent, or the trans youth that doesn’t have a permanent place to live, or the individuals on methamphetamine that are having anonymous sex while using,” she said.

The city carved out 75 vaccine doses for monkeypox to the Chase Brexton Health Care which houses the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity. Another 60 doses of the vaccine are for individuals discovered through contract tracing of being exposed to monkeypox and the remaining 65 doses are allocated to the Baltimore City Healthcare Department clinics.

Dzirasa said the city held pop-up registration events at three local bars over the weekend to offer ‘high-risk’ individuals a chance to sign up at the long-time LGBTQ clinic.

The city created an educational website about monkeypox to curb the spread and reached out to organizations who frequently work with individuals in the LGBTQ community who are most at risk. Testing for the virus is also available.

“We’re also educating healthcare providers across the city to ensure that they are aware of monkeypox, the symptoms and appropriate course of action should they encounter a suspected case,” she said.

Anyone can contract monkeypox, “no matter your race, gender or sexual orientation,” she said.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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