With Douglas County reporting its first monkeypox case last week, the availability of the vaccine remains intentionally limited, according to officials at Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.
“This is being approached as an outbreak — an event we need to kind of contain and manage,” said Daniel Smith, a spokesperson for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.
If an individual has monkeypox or has been exposed, they can get vaccinated, Smith said, but a vaccine rollout reminiscent of the clinics that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic is unfounded.
“Everyone has this heightened sense of awareness about transmissible diseases due to the COVID pandemic, but monkeypox is in a totally different league in terms of transmissibility,” Smith said. “COVID is so incredibly transmissible … whereas with monkeypox, it transmits through a pretty substantial amount of contact.”
Because monkeypox is not pervasive — so far, only five cases in Kansas have been reported to the CDC — and because it is generally not fatal, the vaccine is being distributed only to people who have been directly exposed.
“The vaccine availability is limited, but for those who are suspect cases, confirmed or close contact of cases, they are given the vaccine,” said Veronica White, LDCPH preparedness and epidemiological coordinator.
Monkeypox is characterized by a rash often accompanied with flulike symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills and headaches.
The virus is spread by close body-to-body contact but is not a sexually transmitted disease, as people sometimes mistakenly think, Smith said. It can also be transmitted through shared clothing and towels.
“Literally everybody has the same vulnerability to monkeypox even though some populations have been disportionately affected,” Smith said. “We have no plans to do preventative vaccinations.”
But White said administering the vaccine swiftly can reduce the severity of symptoms.
In Kansas, people who’ve contracted monkeypox or those who have been near a confirmed case need to go through a referral process to access the vaccine.
Those in Douglas County can call the LDCPH clinic at 785-843-0721 to get tested. If positive, they will be referred to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for the vaccine.
“Right now the state health department is covering the investigation for positive monkeypox cases, and when it comes to vaccine availability, when someone is presumed a probable case or suspect case, KDHE immediately goes and does contact tracing,” White said. “Before the case is even confirmed, sometimes they will go ahead and give out the vaccine.”
Another thing Smith and White want the public to be aware of is that people who contract monkeypox need to quarantine for up to four weeks.
“I definitely think that employers in Douglas County should be aware that if one of their staff members contracts (monkeypox) they will have to take that seriously and ensure they can isolate and not spread it to other staff,” Smith said.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.