We failed the response to monkeypox. Blame homophobia

State Sen. Scott Viner, who represents San Francisco, was recently at a mostly gay birthday party and the conversation turned to monkeypox.

“We, as always, are on our own,” recalls someone Weiner. “We can’t count on anyone else.”

Unfortunately, this sense of isolation and frustration is borne out by the so far lukewarm and ineffective response to monkeypox, mostly at the federal level, as the disease spreads among bisexual, transgender and men who have sex communities.

The virus leads to a painful and serious severe infection that few of us care to think about – festering sores similar to chickenpox – especially during the ongoing debilitating COVID-19 crisis. But in the midst of a pandemic in which we ostensibly learned the value of quick action to educate and vaccinate, the response to monkeypox is dire and suggests a collective indifference that stems from a disease that has largely afflicted LGBT communities.

Viner and others compare this to the AIDS epidemic, which first came to the attention of scientists in newspaper in June 1981 which detailed a rare lung infection in five gay men in Los Angeles. For decades, those most affected by the then deadly virus fought not only for care, but for society at large to notice and help. Although monkeypox is not fatal and usually resolves without serious side effects within a few weeks, Wiener says he sees similarities between that era and today.

“Again we have a public health failure due to a disease that has hit my community,” he told me. “As gay, it’s really terrible.”

And wrong – ethically, morally and medically.

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 267 cases of the virus in California, the second-highest number after New York, where 581 people tested positive. Los Angeles has reported 132 cases as of Wednesday, and the number is steadily rising from 120 on Tuesday.

But these are not isolated outbreaks in cities with diverse populations. There are 132 cases in Georgia. Illinois has 200. Texas has 81.

Monkeypox is almost universal, in at least 45 states, and more than 2,100 cases have been reported in the US to date.

For years, infectious disease experts have been warning that this could happen. Unlike COVID-19, this is not an unknown virus that dropped like a bomb out of nowhere. recent study Alarmingly, the currently circulating strain of the virus has been found to be mutating at a much faster rate than expected. We have known about monkeypox since the 1950s, we have vaccines and tests, but not enough. We also don’t have a clear plan to deliver available to the people who need it most.

California expects thousands more doses of the lead vaccine from the federal government in the coming days, but that still won’t be enough to protect everyone who wants and needs protection. At a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, State Assembly Leader Anthony Rendon called on U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to declare a state of emergency to mobilize resources, while others called for an adequate supply of vaccines to cover health care costs. workers and everyone in affected communities.

It’s common sense, but the security holes are already getting wider.

In San Francisco, hundreds of people queue for hours to get a chance at a vaccine, only to be turned away when their doses run out. In Los Angeles, vaccine recipients have priority under strict criteria until more doses arrive, although those recommendations were expanded this week. In some places, there isn’t enough vaccine to even be considered a public health response. Fresno announced its first confirmed case this week, and a public health official told me that there are 20 doses of the vaccine in the county and 20 more on order. This supply will run out quickly.

Rendon pointed out that monkeypox testing is not covered by Medi-Cal, the government’s insurance plan for low-income people, creating a huge barrier for the most vulnerable. And those who have confirmed cases must isolate for several weeks. In Los Angeles, public health orders come with the threat of a misdemeanor charge for insubordination, according to one person who received a notice from authorities (the Department of Health said similar orders were issued for COVID-19). But so far there has been no financial assistance for those forced into isolation, and Viner and Rendon said they hope to resolve this problem when the Legislative Assembly meets again next month.

All this chaos is unfolding against the backdrop of far-right attacks on LGBT communities across the country. MAGA types, too many of which white supremacists and Christian nationalistsare attacking LGBTQ communities as the next target in their efforts to dismantle human and civil rights.

The right to same-sex marriage is under threat. Far-right media outlets, including Fox News, regularly make false claims that anyone who is not heterosexual is somehow “babying” children, thinly veiled allegations of pedophilia based on sexual orientation. Here in California Proud Boys twice in the last months disrupted LGBTQ events with hate-filled rhetoric, including breaks in during a transvestite story at the Library of Northern California.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how the far right is setting up monkeypox. I won’t go into more detail about this ugliness, but the disease and our indecisiveness about it “plays into the hands of the extreme right, who are always looking to manipulate any crisis,” Rendon said when I spoke to him in front of the press. conference.

This reality is already affecting the public health response. Behind the scenes there is debate and disagreement about what messaging should be. Some want to highlight the fact that monkeypox can affect anyone and can be transmitted without sexual contact, making it dangerous for all of us.

Close skin-to-skin contact with a person who has ulcers can spread it, as can contact with items such as contaminated bedding. It can also be airborne, although it requires much more exposure than the coronavirus — more like kissing or caring for a sick person in close contact. And the CDC warns that it can be transmitted through animals, such as pets living with an infected person. With fall approaching, it’s not hard to foresee a school outbreak at some point or a superspread at a concert or festival.

Others want to focus on spreading it through communities of transgender people and men who have sex with men. Since these are currently the people most at risk, it makes sense to focus education and vaccination on these groups. Pride Month has just ended with its many celebrations, which likely portends more cases in the coming weeks. Other holidays are coming up, such as San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair, which provides a great way to reach vulnerable communities with on-the-spot vaccinations.

But some reporting of fear that only targets LGBTQ communities will lead to further stigmatization and attacks, fueling this far-right fearmongering and fueling prejudice. This may discourage some from seeking medical attention if they contract monkeypox and give the general public the false impression that the virus is not a problem for all of us.

Thankfully, this is not the 1980s, short of a Kate Bush renaissance. Those most affected by monkeypox are not afraid to speak up and demand better.

Matt Ford is an actor, writer and producer based in West Hollywood and New York. made a TikTok about his smallpox attack it went viral and started some important conversations.

Matt Ford

Matt Ford, actor, writer and producer, took to TikTok about his battle with monkeypox that went viral.

(Studio Justin Klines)

On June 17, Ford, who had previously given little thought to monkeypox, received a call from a friend with whom he had spent time the week before, who now had monkeypox. After a few minutes, Ford realized that he, too, had sores. By the time he was able to get a test result a week later, the lesions, about 25 in all, had spread to his face and numerous other places, causing him such great anxiety that he could not sleep without painkillers.

Ford had the good sense to isolate himself as soon as he saw the spots, but after a confirmed diagnosis, he received a medical order requiring him to stay at home, which he did for three weeks and three days until the doctor allowed. visit.

When I spoke to him this week, he returned to New York and was happy to be free. And despite the trolls, happily he spoke out.

“I think a lot of people didn’t take it seriously before, including me,” he said. He hopes that “being frank about it and repeating that there is no reason for shame and stigma” will help change the course of the conversation.

This is a worrying time, he said of all this far-right furor, and he hopes that “the people will come for us at this moment” for the health of a vulnerable community and the health of a democracy purposefully divided by hatred.

Me too, because indifference is its own virus, which we should be ashamed to spread.