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County acknowledges lag on monkeypox vaccine supply

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 by Seth Smalley

As of yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control is reporting 992 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Texas, 88 of which are in Travis County (nine confirmed and 79 “presumptive”). On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to approve a continued declaration of disaster related to the virus.

“While they’re labeled as presumed cases, pretty much nine out of 10 times they turn out to be monkeypox,” said Pilar Sanchez, county executive for Travis County Health and Human Services. “It was 72 yesterday and 79 today. So that number has gone up.”

HHS has received 3,000 vaccines and put in an order for 5,000 more, but has yet to receive them, reportedly because the state is still waiting on a second allocation from the federal government.

“Frankly, we don’t have enough vaccines,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said. “But we do have, it looks like, the infrastructure to give out the vaccines as we get them,” he said, referencing the residual vaccine dispersal infrastructure established during the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, Austin Public Health has responded to the outbreak by:

  • requesting medical countermeasures from state and federal partners, including preventive vaccines or treatments for positive cases
  • submitting collected specimens to the state lab for testing
  • conducting “disease investigation” for those with symptoms
  • monitoring those who have been exposed
  • coordinating with medical providers and local officials for future collaboration

“They’ve provided several vaccines to a few partners who then provide them to people who come,” Sanchez said of APH. “There’s also a nurse line Austin Public Health is manning at this time; they’ve been receiving about 200 calls a day from people who think they’ve been exposed or who have symptoms, and they provide them with guidance on what to do.”

APH has vaccinated over 536 people so far, according to Sanchez, but other providers have also administered “most of their vaccines.” Kind Clinic was mentioned as one of the providers that has gone through most or all of its vaccine allocation.

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion brought up issues of vaccine equity, given the undersupply.

“I know that there is a scarcity of vaccine. And I guess my question really is, do we know the geographic distribution – the information geographically about where the vaccine has been used, by ZIP code?” Travillion asked.

Sanchez indicated that HHS can most likely get that information, but is keeping the demographic maps it uses internally private at the moment for “confidentiality.”

“It makes sense to me to get it to the folks who are most vulnerable to the disease,” Commissioner Ann Howard said. “It’s important to get it to the clinics who serve these patients on a regular basis.”

“There’s no limit on this disease,” Brown noted. “It could easily spread to children in our schools.” He noted that kids touch each other all the time while they play and that the virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact.

“Until we get more vaccines, we really need to educate people on how not to spread it because this isn’t something limited to any demographic group,” Brown said.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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