After almost three months of rampant spread, the number of monkeypox infections in San Francisco is steadily declining. Though hopeful, state and local leaders are still cautiously calling on the federal government to issue more vaccines in an equitable way, both in San Francisco and across California.
Last week, less than five new cases of monkeypox were reported in San Francisco, according to data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The virus hit a peak of 143 new cases on the week starting July 24.
U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, said that these preliminary numbers, though promising, are not an indicator to slow down vaccine rollout. California still needs about 800,000 vaccine doses from U.S. Health and Human Services, Padilla said at a news conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
“The one thing that I heard loud and clear from folks here on the ground and overwhelmingly from health organizations and communities throughout the state of California is that we cannot let up. We must do more, even though the recent numbers are encouraging,” Padilla said.
Padilla said monkeypox continues to disproportionately affect communities of color throughout the state and the country, similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monkeypox is different in that it’s not a new disease, and the Jynneos vaccine, initially made for smallpox, has been proven to be effective to prevent its spread.
“While cases rise but vaccine supplies fall short, LGBTQ Californians, especially those of color, are feeling forgotten. We’re hearing that everywhere we go, and it’s simply unacceptable,” Padilla said. “If we learned nothing else from the COVID-19 pandemic, sustained periods of limited vaccine availability early on in a public health crisis is a recipe for disaster.”
As of Thursday, San Francisco has administered over 21,500 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, according to city data. San Francisco Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said there is still much to be done to meet demand, as hundreds of people line up to get vaccinated throughout all available clinics in the city.
The city has received 22,000 doses from the federal stockpile, 13,000 short of what the city’s Public Health Department initially requested, Colfax said. About 8,000 more doses are en route and will soon be available, he said.
“We have urgently asked our state and federal partners to deliver us the resources we need to stop monkeypox from spreading further. If we don’t do enough, we face the possibility that this disease could become endemic and continue to harm people for the foreseeable future,” Colfax said.
Colfax said the health department learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to be more flexible with outreach and vaccination efforts. The department has worked with both community-relevant resources like the Mission Neighborhood Health Center and the San Francisco Latino Task Force, as well as big-name health care providers like Kaiser Permanente and University of California, San Francisco to ensure members and non-members have access to the vaccine.
“We have the system to get a lot more vaccines out into arms as quickly as possible, we just need more vials so we can get it out,” Colfax said.
It took 78 days for the Biden Administration to declare monkeypox a public health emergency after the first reported case in the U.S. in May. San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer said that federal public health leadership failed to act fast enough, despite their resources, knowledge and expertise to prevent this outbreak from worsening.
“We missed the beginning of a window. You see, unlike any newly emerging public health crisis in our country, we had a baseline, the United States and other countries throughout the world had experienced previous outbreaks of impacts,” TerMeer said.
TerMeer said he’s hearing powerful, painful stories of how this virus impacts the LGBTQ+ community and underserved populations every day. People recovering from infection will feel the lasting impacts of social isolation, economic insecurity and stigma, “beyond the physical scars that remain in their lives,” he said.
“We need action, we need vaccine, we need to cut through all remaining bureaucratic red tape that continues to bring harm to our community,” TerMeer said.