Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley need far more doses of monkeypox vaccines given their concentration of gay men, who have been most at risk during the current outbreak, say the head of a key health-care provider and the valley’s congressman.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-La Quinta, said current state plans only call for Riverside County to get about 1,000 doses, enough to vaccinate around 500 people, only some of whom would be in the desert.
“However, local infectious disease experts say that they would need 10,000 vaccines to cover the area’s high-risk populations,” Ruiz wrote Thursday to Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state secretary of health and human services.
He urged California to consider special vaccine clinics in the Palm Springs area, as health officials have done for other popular gay tourist destinations such as Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Fire Island outside New York City.
Monkeypox, which typically causes painful rashes and fever, has been rare in the United States historically. Its name is derived from its first discovery in colonies of research monkeys in 1958.
The virus spreads much less rapidly than highly contagious respiratory diseases like COVID-19. That’s because monkeypox infection usually happens after what health officials call “close, intimate contact” such as kissing or sex. People can also contract it if they touch the skin or bodily fluids of someone who has the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The current outbreak has spread largely through skin-to-skin contact among what health officials call “gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men,” said David Brinkman, CEO of Palm Springs-based DAP Health, which is working with Ruiz to urge more vaccines be sent here.
He said 96% of this year’s monkeypox infections in the United States have been in that community.
Brinkman said the state is allocating vaccines using a formula weighted toward larger and more densely populated areas, which puts the valley at a disadvantage.
But he said that when you consider the number of LGBTQ residents and tourists, “Palm Springs goes to the top of the list.”
Brinkman said DAP Health has received 80 doses of the vaccine and expects to get 80 more by the time those patients need their second dose in a month.
But he said that doesn’t even come close to the number of sex workers in the valley, let alone other residents and tourists at risk. Eisenhower Health said Thursday it has another 120 doses.
Brinkman said some people who contracted monkeypox have described getting sicker than they ever have and experiencing the worst pain of their lives.
“Our community deserves to be protected,” Brinkman said.
Eric Hartley is The Desert Sun’s news editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.