The city Department of Health said Wednesday it was poised to offer thousands of new monkeypox vaccination slots, just hours after it received a new shipment of the much-sought inoculation from the feds.
New Yorkers seemed ready to snap them up, too, as they quickly grabbed appointments that were posted prematurely Wednesday due to an online glitch in just minutes.
“Due to an unfortunate glitch, monkeypox vaccine appointments were made available prematurely. Rest assured, more appointments will be available this afternoon, and we will update here and on our website when they are available,” DOHMH tweeted. “We will be honoring all appointments that were made earlier today.”
The situation repeated itself Wednesday evening when the agency formally released a limited number of new slots, all of which were quickly snagged.
The second monkeypox vaccine delivery — which arrived Tuesday and netted almost 6,000 new doses — comes as officials at DOHMH battle a wave of recent cases amid recent LGBT Pride celebrations, which concluded at the end of June.
Additionally, officials said they are holding off on providing second doses to the roughly 1,000 New Yorkers who already received their first shot to maximize the number of people who can get the protection offered by partial inoculation.
The attempt to stretch the supply comes as officials acknowledged they do not expect to receive a third major shipment from the feds until mid-to-late July.
“One of the things we know about vaccine is that they don’t serve anyone any good on the shelf,” said Dr. Jay Varma, who helped lead City Hall’s COVID response under former Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It’s all an argument in getting as many first doses into people as possible.”
As of Tuesday, 111 New Yorkers have tested positive for the virus, a dramatic jump from the 62 cases reported the previous week and the 25 identified the week before, city statistics show.
Monkeypox is an illness primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact, which can cause fever, flu-like symptoms and is often marked by painful lesions or rashes.
“Anyone can get and spread monkeypox,” the Health Department said in its most recent public guidance.
It added: “The current cases are primarily spreading among social networks of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, so this community is currently at greater risk of exposure.”
Public health officials have gone to great pains to emphasize that the virus can be transmitted just as easily between heterosexuals as it is among gay men, among which many of the early outbreaks were clustered.
Many of those early cases were traced to parties, clubs or other activities in Europe that cater to gay men — particularly younger men — where canoodling and other intimate contact is frequent and often encouraged.
Public health officials in New York and across the country have also warned that massive constraints on testing for the virus make it difficult to track just how far it has actually spread.
Currently, the city Health Department’s tiny but sophisticated public health lab can only run about 20 tests a day, a limitation that will only be removed once larger private labs are up to speed.
Additionally, the only approved test currently requires doctors to swab the rash or lesions to collect a sample, meaning only those with advanced infections can be checked.
The circumstances provide an eerily parallel to the missteps during the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, when testing was limited and popular perception wrongly colored the disease as a ‘gay plague’ even though all New Yorkers were vulnerable.
And the struggles with monkeypox testing and vaccine rollout also echo the struggles with COVID, which has killed more than a million Americans — including roughly 35,000 people in New York City alone.
But there are key differences between monkeypox and those deadly plagues in terms of both knowledge and severity.
Firstly, scientists have been studying monkeypox for decades. Secondly, there is a vaccine available, which can prevent infection and limit symptoms in those already sick when administered in a timely manner.
The feds have announced they are ramping up production of the JYNNEOS shots, though public health activists say the plan is not ambitious enough.