Aug 11, 2022 - News

Salt Lake County works with LGBTQ groups on monkeypox messaging

Illustration of a hand holding a syringe underneath a giant red dot.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Salt Lake County Health Department is working with LGBTQ rights organizations to frame public health messaging around the spread of monkeypox and the availability of vaccines.

Driving the news: While U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has urged every American to take monkeypox seriously, the outbreak has disproportionately impacted men who have sex with men.

  • Local health departments across the country are also grappling with targeting messaging to the most impacted, without incurring additional stigma to the LGBTQ community.

What they're saying: "When we had our first two cases in May … we knew we had to start immediately in ensuring that those who are at the highest risk had the information they needed to make decisions to protect themselves," said Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department.

State of play: In May, Rupp said the county health department held a virtual meeting with the Utah Pride Center, Equality Utah, the Utah AIDS Foundation and the state health department to discuss how to get the word out ahead of Pride Festival festivities.

  • Rupp said community-based organizations have better trust and connections with the MSM community and LGBTQ residents.
  • "We always err on the side of safety and public health, but we do our best to temper that with not encouraging stigma," Rupp said. "When it comes down to it … we're going to be direct to make sure we can protect people."
  • Rupp said community-based organizations are also helping inform the MSM community about vaccine clinics.

Jessica Dummar, co-CEO at the Utah Pride Center, said the organization has helped review and edit some of the county’s public health messaging.

  • “This isn’t a queer disease," she said. "This is a disease that is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact."
  • Dumar believes the county's approach has been effective at disseminating critical health information to queer communities about the virus.

Of note: Due to a federal vaccine shortage, appointments and walk-in clinics organized by the county have been open to only men who have sex with men who are not in monogamous relationships and don't have monkeypox symptoms.

  • Last month, the county health department distributed about 900 doses to people. An estimated 500 were given out or scheduled earlier this month.

The latest: So far, the state has reported 58 monkeypox cases, with the majority concentrated in Salt Lake County.

What's next: The county health department expects to receive a new shipment of doses next week from the federal government. Rupp said that vaccine appointments will be made available as soon as they arrive.

If you have symptoms: Health officials recommend calling your health provider to get tested and treated. Those who don't have health resources can call the county at 385-468-4242.

  • According to the CDC, symptoms include a rash, fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes.

What we're watching: The CDC reports Black and Latino communities are overrepresented in monkeypox cases. Among the 88% of U.S. cases with available data, 41% were among White persons, 28% were Latino and 26% were Black. Black and Latino Americans comprise nearly 14% and 19% of the U.S. population, respectively, according to the census bureau.

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