Some Philadelphians say they can’t get monkeypox vaccine appointments despite meeting eligibility criteria

Contradictory info and long waitlists leave many feeling confused and frustrated
A medical professional prepares a dose of the monkeypox vaccine. Monkeypox, a rare disease, is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox.
A medical professional prepares a dose of the monkeypox vaccine. Monkeypox, a rare disease, is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox. Photo credit Hollie Adams/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia received its second federal shipment of the monkeypox vaccine, adding more than 2,300 doses to its arsenal as of Friday afternoon.

Yet frustration is the universal feeling among residents who have been waiting on the phone for hours trying to get themselves shots, along with activists and lawmakers in Philadelphia who want widespread availability of the vaccine.

Currently, five locations in the city have been offering the monkeypox vaccine, and they are gone as soon as they come in.

“Last week, we were fortunate to receive 100 doses,” said Mazzoni Center Medical Care Supervisor Steven Robinson. “With one day’s notice, we were able to vaccinate 80% of those people.  That’s just the people who were able to come less than with a 24 hour notice.”

But many more people in Philadelphia find themselves struggling to even get an appointment.

The first time Steve Preston from South Philadelphia called the city, he was 83rd in line. He was eventually told there were no available vaccines, and he should call again later. The second time around, he got an appointment for early next month.

“I was comparing it to getting a PS5,” he said. “You also have to just sit there and hit refresh over and over.”

Ed Coffin of East Passyunk was caller No. 49.

“I have called the health department probably seven or eight times since Monday,” he said. “I waited about two hours to speak with someone on the phone.”

He claims health officials told him that since he was not directly exposed to monkeypox, he couldn’t get an appointment. However, he was already a patient at one of the five clinics in Philly that distribute the vaccine, so he was able to finally get an appointment.

This was not the case for others seeking a shot.

“It’s more frustrating to me that there’s probably a lot of people who have been calling and being told the same thing, that even though they are considered high risk and eligible, they’re unable to get the vaccine,” Coffin added.

AJ Moore from University City works as a flight attendant. When he isn’t in the sky, he’s been trying to stay at home.

“I don’t leave the house if I don’t have to, if I’m not working. I pretty much only go out for groceries or things of that nature,” he said. “When I’m flying, I’m wearing gloves, I’m masked up, I wipe everything down.

“I’m trying to be very smart about it. Monkeypox seems very scary and I don’t ever want to catch it.”

City health officials say more than 880 doses of the vaccine have been administered. The city has confirmed six cases so far, while another 61 are probable.

The federal government plans to distribute 786,000 more shots nationwide by the end of the month.

People are eligible for the vaccine if they have been exposed to monkeypox or meet a certain list of criteria. That includes people over 18 who are gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary and men who have sex with men; people who have been recently diagnosed with an STI; or people who have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last two weeks.

The city is also only vaccinating people with confirmed exposures or known contact at this point in time.

But many civic and health leaders including Robinson say the criteria for getting vaccinated is too stringent.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, wants more widespread availability, and questions the reason for the hold-up.

“I don’t know,” said Kenyatta. “I think part of the reason is the way it’s been stigmatized so far as a virus that only impacts the gay community. That could not be further from the truth”

A Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesperson said the city is not giving out appointments at random or denying people with confirmed exposures.

The spokesperson noted the city has a staff of less than two dozen people answering the hotline, though more people are being hired to assist with the surge.

Monkeypox can be spread by a handshake, a hug, or a kiss with someone who is infected regardless of sexual orientation.

The Mazzoni Center is hosting a virtual community town hall to discuss the virus on August 2 at 6 p.m.

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