Form could prevent LGBT Missourians from getting vaccinated against monkeypox

People in the St. Louis region may be eligible to receive limited doses of monkeypox vaccine in two ways: by confirming they have been exposed to someone with the virus, or by declaring they are at high risk of contracting the virus. viruses through an online evaluation form.

The eligibility requirements are to make sure the vaccine reaches those who need it most. But some LGBTQ advocates worry that Missouri health officials could discourage people from getting vaccinated by asking about their sexual behavior and identity.

“Gay men, trans men, bisexual men, and trans women who have historically been marginalized and mistreated by government are not going to suddenly trust a government that asks them to disclose their vulnerabilities and identity to sign up. this vaccine,” said Shira Berkowitz, director of advocacy and policy at the nonprofit LGBTQ rights organization PROMO Missouri.

Monkeypox causes fever, sores, and fatigue and is spread through close physical contact with the lesions of an infected person. It can also be spread through respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact or during physical contact. That includes kisses, caresses or sex. Transmission is most likely in places where people are minimally clothed and crowded together.

Monkeypox can infect anyone, but right now, it is mainly spreading in people who have sex with men who have sex with men. That includes other gay men, trans and bisexual people, and those with other queer identities.

There have been 84 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Missouri, but the vaccine supply is still limited. As of last week, the state has received more than 6,000 vials of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One vial can contain up to five doses of the vaccine.

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Because the state still hasn’t received enough vaccine to meet demand, it used the eligibility screening survey, which patients can access through portals on the St. Louis and District health department websites. St. Louis County, to find out who gets immunizations.

Among other questions, the form asks respondents if they identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender and if they have engaged in commercial, public, or group sex in the past two weeks. The state provides that information to local health departments, which then distribute the vaccine based on responses.

Sending sexual histories to state officials can discourage people who are worried about being found out or discriminated against because of their identity, especially in Missouri, Berkowitz said.

“It would be wonderful if we lived in a state that included sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in our human rights statutebut we still don’t,” they said.

The information on the forms is not shared with anyone other than health officials, said Christopher Ave, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. State and local health agencies are subject to health privacy laws and will not share information.

Still, Ave understands that some may hesitate.

“No one is going to know how an individual responds to that survey, other than public health experts and the county and jurisdiction they live in,” Ave said. “Does that mean no one is ever going to care about it? Of course people are going to be concerned, and I certainly sympathize with anyone who wants to keep their information private.”

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Local health departments are limited by state and federal guidelines when it comes to determining eligibility for the limited doses, he said.

“In a perfect world, we would have abundant vaccines instantly available to anyone who ever wanted them,” Ave said.

St. Louis and St. Louis County health officials also plan to attend Tower Grove Pride events this weekend to talk to people about monkeypox vaccinations, he said, though he couldn’t confirm if vaccines would be available at those events.

Meeting people and determining eligibility in person could be a more effective strategy than using online forms, Berkowitz said.

“They should go where the people are,” they said. “Whether it’s gay bars, nightclubs or Gay Pride this weekend, and make sure there’s access to the vaccine without having to reveal if you’ve recently slept with someone who’s been in contact with the virus.”

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