The Biden administration said Friday there’s enough monkeypox vaccine available now but health officials say the shots aren’t getting to some of the people who need the protection the most.
About 10% of monkeypox vaccine doses have been given to Black people, even though they account for one-third of U.S. cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new numbers come from 17 states and two cities, and represent the most comprehensive details yet on who has been getting the two-dose vaccines. Similar disparities had been reported previously by a few states and cities.
Most U.S. monkeypox cases have been in men who have sex with men, but officials have stressed that anyone can catch the virus.
Experts offered several possible explanations for the disparity. It may be related to how and where shots are being offered and publicized. It may be that some Black men don’t trust doctors and government public health efforts. Or they may be less willing to identify themselves as a person who is at higher risk of catching the disease.
The gap is an echo of disparities seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, when certain racial groups were a disproportionately large share of cases but a smaller fraction of the people initially receiving vaccinations, said Dr. Yvens Laborde, director of global health education at Ochsner Health in New Orleans.
“If we’re not careful, the same thing will happen here” with monkeypox, he said.
Available information suggests that Black men are a growing proportion of monkeypox cases, said Caitlin Rivers, a Johns Hopkins University expert on government response to epidemics.
“This is a problem that is not resolving,” she said.
The Biden administration said Friday it has shipped enough monkeypox vaccine to deliver the first of two doses to the group at highest risk of infection. That’s an estimated 1.6 million men who have sex with other men, but the CDC does not have a racial breakdown of the group. The administration expects to have enough for second doses available by the end of next month.
Earlier this month, health officials authorized a plan to allow injection of smaller doses of the vaccine into the skin instead of into muscle, which has helped stretch supplies. With the help of that new method, which requires about one-fifth the usual dose, the administration says it has now shipped enough vaccine for at least 1.6 million doses.
According to the administration, only 14 jurisdictions of 67 have used enough vaccine to request more from the federal stockpile.
Some experts say health officials need to make sure Black men have more access to vaccinations, testing, treatment and other types of information and assistance.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, speaking at a White House briefing, said her agency has taken steps to increase access. Vaccines and educational materials will be available at Atlanta’s upcoming Black Pride events and New Orlean’s Southern Decadence.
“We’ve seen as we’re starting to roll these pilot projects out that they are working,” she said.
The government hadn’t previously reported on vaccine recipients’ demographics, because such information sharing is voluntary. The numbers released Friday reflect information on about 208,000 doses administered as of earlier this week, out of more than 1 million shipped. Age, sex, racial and ethnic information was not available for every recipient.