New Jersey is opening monkeypox vaccine eligibility to people considered at higher risk for the disease, even as vaccine supplies remain limited nationwide and local governments wait on shipments that are quickly outpaced by demand.
The JYNNEOS vaccine had already been available to New Jersey residents with known exposures to monkeypox, which is spread through skin-to-skin contact and can cause symptoms including lesions, swollen lymph nodes and rashes.
Three sites are now making the vaccine available to populations considered at-risk, by appointment only:
Hyacinth AIDS Foundation/Project Living Out Loud!, Jersey City — 201-706-3480 The Prevention Resource Network, Asbury Park — 732-502-5100 North Jersey Community Research Initiative, Newark — 973-483-3444, ext. 200
The at-risk populations now eligible include anyone who attended an event where a known monkeypox exposure occurred. They also include any members of the following groups who have had multiple or anonymous sex partners within the past two weeks: gay or bisexual individuals, men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, gender non-conforming individuals and non-binary individuals.
The vaccine will also be available to people who have conditions that could increase their risk of severe disease if infected with monkeypox, such as immune system disorders, dermatitis and eczema.
In announcing the expanded availability Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey said it had 2,700 doses available. There had been 45 probable or confirmed cases of the virus in New Jersey to that point.
“New Jersey has been given a very limited number of doses at this time, and the (Health) Department continues to press the CDC on timely delivery of additional necessary doses to meet the needs of our at-risk populations,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a statement. “At the same time, residents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of the orthopoxvirus (monkeypox virus) and take precautions to prevent the spread.”
Residents with known exposures can receive the two-dose vaccine through their local health departments, which are also responsible for conducting contact tracing and offering the vaccine to known close contacts.
The governor’s office said New Jersey is expecting additional doses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and will expand availability as it does.
Murphy’s office emphasized that, while many cases have been identified among men who have sex with men, monkeypox can spread through direct contact between any individuals, as well as by touching clothing, bedding or surfaces exposed to someone with the virus.
Some health researchers, public health officials and members of LGBTQ communities have criticized what they see as lacking local and federal response to the spread of monkeypox.
Montclair Township’s Health Department this week began offering vaccines “on an extremely limited basis” to residents of that community and neighboring Cedar Grove and Verona, in Essex County.
“Unfortunately, while we await stronger state and federal response, this is what we’re working with right now and aren’t offering the vaccine to at-risk populations generally,” Montclair Council member Peter Yacobellis, the first openly gay member of that township’s governing body and founder of the Out Montclair community organization, told local media by email.
He continued: “As a gay man, seeing this disease impact my community disproportionately, I’m concerned that the government response has been inadequate and state and federal officials need to step it up.”
And he said federal infrastructure and spending aren’t up to the challenge of confronting the disease.
That sentiment was echoed by Rutgers School of Public Health Dean Perry N. Halkitis, who is gay, in a conversation with NJ Spotlight News.
“We’re not responding adequately,” Halkitis said. “Exposure rates are up and it’s just a matter of time until this reaches the general population.”
Halkitis has published a Q&A online about the virus, but told Spotlight there just isn’t enough effective communication around monkeypox.
“Every gay man I’ve spoken with — friends, acquaintances, colleagues — feel like they have no information on where they are supposed to go to get a vaccine for monkeypox in the state of New Jersey,” he said.