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Austin Public Health expands eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 by Laura Morales, KUT

Austinites at risk of contracting monkeypox are now eligible for the vaccine, health officials said Monday. Previously, the vaccine was limited to people directly exposed to the virus or diagnosed with the disease.

“We are really just classifying anyone at risk,” said Dr. Christina Madison with Wellness Equity Alliance, one of the health care organizations working with Austin Public Health to vaccinate people. “That includes anyone who has multiple sex partners, anyone with anonymous sex partners, anyone who may have been to an event like a large rave or concert, who may have come in contact with somebody who could have monkeypox.”

Madison said that includes a far larger portion of the public than before. The change follows a recommendation last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eligible populations also include people newly diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection and health care workers who are at risk of being exposed to monkeypox.

Austin Public Health had confirmed 186 monkeypox cases in the area as of Sept. 30. Symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, muscle aches and backaches, headaches and respiratory problems like a sore throat or congestion.

People are contagious from the moment they have any of these flu-like symptoms. The virus can become briefly airborne for a short distance if someone scratches at their sores. It also spreads through contact with textiles or surfaces an infected person touched.

APH partners have about 4,000 vials containing three to five doses each. Two doses are needed to be fully protected. Find out if you are eligible for the vaccine and book a free appointment on Wellness Equity Alliance’s website.

“These vaccines have been critical in reducing the spread of monkeypox here in our community and protecting people from the severe pain the virus can cause,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a press release.

Austin Public Health has three other partners providing free vaccines at their Austin clinics: CommUnityCare, Kind Clinic and Vivent Health.

If you are not eligible for the vaccine, you can take other steps to protect yourself like avoiding skin-to-skin contact with strangers, washing your hands, sanitizing surfaces and staying home if you feel sick.

Madison is hopeful these efforts will stop the spread of the disease.

“When we vaccinate, we stop that means of transmission,” she said, “so if you get exposed and then I get exposed, if we both get vaccinated it stops with us.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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