Acquiring a monkeypox vaccine is starting to look a lot like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when for many, booking an appointment was a clerical headache.
A highly anticipated shipment of the JYNNEOS vaccine arrived in New York City this week as officials raced to combat the rising number of monkeypox. The city’s health department made the announcement in a tweet Wednesday morning, adding that more appointments for the vaccine, administered in two doses over four weeks, would become available later in the afternoon. But then, things went haywire.
From there, “an unfortunate glitch” and “technical difficulties,” riddled the system as the health department apologized on Twitter.
“Due to an unfortunate glitch, monkeypox vaccine appointments were made available prematurely,” the DOH tweeted on Wednesday. “Rest assured, more appointments will be available this afternoon, and we will update here and on our website when they are available.”
Astoria resident and President of the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens Patrick Yacco told Gothamist he spent hours monitoring Twitter and refreshing the website where appointments were previously posted.
“Between work emails and calls, you know, every few minutes just refreshing the MedRite appointment page, and being really discouraged when it says that there are no appointments available.” Yacco said while waiting for an update on Wednesday evening. “There’s just been a lot of confusion and frustration over when the vaccine appointments will be available.”
That same evening, the health department announced a “limited number of appointments” were finally available. This time, people were given a choice of two temporary vaccine clinics, one at the Central Harlem Sexual Health Clinic and the other at the Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic. Yacco was one of the lucky people to snag an appointment before they were all gone in less than 15 minutes.
“It brought me back to the moments early last year when vaccines first became available for COVID,” Yacco told Gothamist of the mad scramble for an appointment slot. Still, he said he felt relieved to have the first of the two shots booked.
“With COVID rates rising with the other things that have been going on this summer, this is one less thing that I will have to worry about once I get my shot,” he said.
And while Yacco was able to get his appointment booked, he said he worries for those who aren’t monitoring Twitter as closely for the latest dash for limited numbers of appointments.
Elected officials and advocates have been pushing for the federal government to send additional vaccines to the city.
“Our supply of vaccine is wholly inadequate. Appts are gone within minutes of posting,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said Wednesday on Twitter. “We need the feds to send us far more doses ASAP.”
From the start of the current outbreak, health officials have stressed that while anyone can get and spread monkeypox, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are at greater risk because the virus is “spreading within those social networks.” Due to the limited supply of the monkeypox vaccine, the appointments offered in this phase are being restricted to those at higher risk, the department said in a statement.
“Providing vaccine for New Yorkers at highest risk of transmission will ensure more New Yorkers are protected against monkeypox,” Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement . “Thank you to our federal partners for providing the necessary support we need to curb transmission and keep New Yorkers safe. The city will continue to work with the federal government to secure additional doses.”
Cases of monkeypox have been rising steadily since the first one was detected in May. The city administered 1,000 doses late last month, also running out of appointments within hours then.
As of Tuesday, 111 people in NYC have tested positive for orthopoxvirus, presumed to be monkeypox. It is spread through intimate skin to skin contact and often characterized by lesions throughout the body and its symptoms include swollen lymph glands, chills, fever, and fatigue.