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Cases of monkeypox grow in South Florida but vaccine appointments remain hard to find

An emergency declaration frees up resources to help fight the monkeypox outbreak. There are currently more than 6,600 cases in the U.S.
Mario Tama
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An emergency declaration frees up resources to help fight the monkeypox outbreak. There are currently more than 6,600 cases in the U.S.

Editor's note: Vaccine appointment information is at the bottom of this post.

Florida now has the third most cases of monkeypox, after New York and California, with South Florida reporting the bulk of the state's cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has at least 1,018 cases as of Aug. 10, 2022.

Dr. Zachary Henry, medical director at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Healthcare Center — Northpoint in Fort Lauderdale, says monkeypox patients who have lesions on their skin are contagious until they develop scabs and those scabs fall off.

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"The rash can be so minor that it might be mistaken for just a mosquito bite or a red mark on your skin when in fact it's monkeypox," Henry said. "You're going around shaking hands, hugging people, dancing with people, or more than that, and unknowingly spreading it."

You can also catch monkeypox by using a towel, pillowcase or sheet that someone with lesions on their skin has touched.

A person who gets vaccinated against monkeypox before symptoms start will likely not develop symptoms like painful lesions.

In the U.S., people may receive the two-dose regimen of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which was approved in 2019 for the prevention of smallpox and monkeypox disease in adults 18 and older who are at high risk for an infection.

A press secretary at the Florida Department of Health confirmed by email to WLRN that because of a recent emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration allowing the vaccine to be administered between layers of skin (intradermally) rather than beneath, the state is moving forward with second doses.

This EUA will increase the doses by up to five-fold, according to the FDA, which is allowing people 18 years of age and older who are determined to be at high risk for monkeypox infection to get the vaccine. The EUA allows people younger than 18 years of age who are at high risk of monkeypox infection to also get the two doses, but for this age group, it will be administered by subcutaneous injection.

Any second-dose appointments through the Florida Department of Health that were canceled are now being rescheduled. The two doses are administered 28 days, or four weeks, apart.

Robert Boo, the CEO of the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors, is among the people in the state urging the federal government to allocate more doses of the vaccines for Florida.

"Providers have not been given even their doses that they need," Boo said. "I've had doctors call me when we were providing the vaccinations saying, ‘Hey, can you get me in because I need to get the vaccine myself.'"

Florida has requested all of the vaccines allotted to the state by the federal government, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that analyzes health topics.

"As far as Florida is concerned, we are going to likely be one of the most vulnerable areas, and we are going to need to ramp up our vaccine availability," Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said to WLRN.

Levine Cava and other officials in Miami-Dade County are urging people to educate themselves about the virus that causes this viral disease but not to panic while the federal government provides more vaccine doses.

"You can go to the movie theater, you can send your kids to school, you can go on a cruise vacation. You can get on public transportation," said Dr. Lillian Abbo is an infectious diseases specialist at Jackson Health System, a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Miami-Dade County’s interim chief medical officer. "My call is for people who have active lesions — do not go out in public, hugging, touching, close contact with others and putting others at risk."

She also urged people with lesions not to go to a vaccination site, as that would lead to a spread in infections.

Vaccine appointments fill quickly — people are advised to check back frequently for openings, which happen as dosages arrive.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.