We need vaccines for monkeypox, and we need them now

Organizations like SFAF are uniquely positioned to reach communities who may want or need to be vaccinated against monkeypox, but we don't have enough doses to act swiftly and boldly.

In June, San Francisco AIDS Foundation–one of the largest community-based providers of health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in the Bay Area–received 60 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which can be used to prevent monkeypox infection. Let me say that again: 60 doses. 

In the past few weeks, leading up to and after San Francisco Pride festivities, we have fielded calls, emails, social media inquiries, and in-person questions about when and if monkeypox vaccines might be available for the LGBTQ+ community and others. As we saw in Europe, large-scale Pride and LGBTQ+ events were linked to outbreaks of monkeypox as people gathered, mingled, had sex, and packed dance floors. We were concerned that something similar might happen in San Francisco, while we waited anxiously for word of our vaccine allotment. 

In the meantime, we rolled out sex-positive, non-shaming, non-stigmatizing communications meant to raise awareness in the LGBTQ+ community. We hung flyers, posted on social media, and had conversations in our clinic about the symptoms of monkeypox, doing what we could to promote awareness and testing. We hoped that a supply of vaccines would come through quickly and that we could join the San Francisco Department of Public Health and other community organizations in getting the vaccine to people who want and need it. 

As reported by the New York Times, the vaccine supply is controlled at the federal level by the Department of Health & Human Services, which in turn provides supplies to each state based on a number of criteria. 56,000 vaccine doses have been distributed nation-wide, and that more may soon be available in the coming months. 

Organizations like SFAF are uniquely positioned to reach communities who may be at higher risk for monkeypox–and do so in ways that are affirming and compassionate. We recognize that telling people to stop having sex, or to avoid sex parties, bathhouses or other venues that facilitate “close contacts” won’t help (and will frankly just anger people). Widespread testing and treatment will only get us so far. We need widespread vaccination in our communities to stop this infection from spreading, as Dr. Monica Gandhi has recently shared

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen cases of monkeypox at our clinic. We don’t want to scare you, but we’re now seeing cases on a regular basis. And we’re going to start seeing a lot more cases if we don’t act swiftly and boldly. 

With less than 100 doses of JYNNEOS, and following guidance provided by the San Francisco Department of Health, we are currently vaccinating only “close contacts” of people who have or may have monkeypox. San Francisco City Clinic, and San Francisco’s AITC Travel & Immunization Clinic (the only other two San Francisco organizations offering JYNNEOS) have a similar number of vaccines and are also only vaccinating close contacts. 

If we were to vaccinate every single client in our PrEP program, we would need more than 6,000 doses of JYNNEOS. Conservatively, our medical director said that San Francisco likely needs far more doses of JYNNEOS to curb the spread of monkeypox.

Let’s make it happen! 

SFAF’s Magnet clinic is now offering monkeypox testing and treatment, and the vaccine for people who may have been exposed. Get more info, and find out how to prevent monkeypox in this update from our clinicians

About the author

Tyler TerMeer, PhD

Dr. TerMeer is the CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation.