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Monkeypox Vaccine Eligibility Expanded; Most Mississippi Cases Among Black Gay Men

Medical professional in blue scrubs administers a vaccine into a man's arm
The Mississippi State Department of Health announced on Sept. 8, 2022, that it has expanded monkeypox vaccine eligibility for those at highest risk, including people who have been exposed and many gay or bisexual men and transgender people with certain risk factors. Seen here, a man receives a monkeypox vaccine at a walk-in clinic in Newark, N.J., on Aug. 16, 2022. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Mississippi State Department of Health has expanded eligibility for the two-dose monkeypox vaccine for those at high risk. As of Friday, the agency had identified 48 cases in the state, including three new ones that day, but no deaths so far. MSDH announced the first known cases on July 25.

“While anyone exposed to a person with monkeypox is at risk for infection, most cases in Mississippi are among gay, bisexual men and others who identify as men who have sex with men,” an MSDH press release said.

Public-health data show that, among those infected with monkeypox, 93% are male; 93% are African American; 67% are people who are living with the HIV virus; and their median age is 31. 

The statement says adults 18 and older are eligible for the monkeypox vaccine if they “[h]ave been notified or are aware of close, intimate or sexual contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox.”

Separately, adults 18 and older are eligible if they “identify as gay, bisexual, or as other men who have sex with men, or are transgender individuals, and: have multiple or anonymous sex partners, OR attend events or venues where monkeypox may be transmitted (for example, by skin-to-skin contact or sex on-site), OR are living with HIV, OR have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the prior 90 days.”

While MSDH has detected cases all around the state, more than half are concentrated in Public Health District V, which includes the capital city of Jackson and the following counties: Claiborne, Copiah, Hinds, Madison, Rankin, Simpson, Sharkey, Issaquena, Warren and Yazoo.

MSDH says early monkeypox symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. Later symptoms that develop a few days later include “a painful rash or sores, sometimes located near the genitals or anus, but sometimes in other areas such as the hands, feet, chest or face.” Those sores “will go through several stages before healing,” MSDH says, adding that “sores may be inside the body, including the mouth, vagina or anus.” 

Those who have monkeypox can infect others “when symptoms begin and until all sores have healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed.” The healing process can last several weeks. MSDH urges those with symptoms to isolate at home and contact their health-care provider for testing. 

The MSDH statement on expanded monkeypox vaccine eligibility urges people who believe they are “high risk based on this eligibility” not to wait and to “take action and get vaccinated now.” The two-dose vaccine series is available at nine county health departments in the state. For more information on monkeypox and vaccination, call the Monkeypox Call Center at 1-877-978-6453. You can also visit MSDH’s monkeypox page as HealthyMS.com/monkeypox.

The U.S. has reported more than 21,800 monkeypox cases nationwide but no deaths.

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