Monkeypox affecting Black, Latino communities at higher rates

By Juan Calvillo

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and local medical providers are trying to reconcile the disparity of resources and accessibility to Latino, Black and other minority communities when it comes to battling monkeypox. 

The East Los Angeles College Foundation and the Los Angeles Blade, a LGBTQ+ news resource, held an event at ELAC to review information on these concerns. Alexis Loya, LGBTQ programs manager at ViaCare, which works out of the Student Health Center, said the center’s health provider Michelle Quan can refer students to ViaCare locations.

“While we were unable to provide the monkeypox vaccine out of our ELAC Wellness center, we worked closely with the provider to ensure she would be able to provide information of monkeypox vaccine availability to all students,” Loya said.

Alicia H. Chang, infectious disease doctor and regional official for the LACDPH, said the infection curve seems to be going down as of August. She said 97% of those infected with monkeypox are men with 94% identifying as LGBTQ+. The LACDPH’s website has a list of symptoms for monkeypox. Symptoms of the virus include:

A rash having bumps, pimples, blisters, sores or scabs.

This rash may be anywhere on the body including genitals, mouth, hands or face.

The rash can be in one area or across the whole body.

The rash can itchy or painful

Flu-like symptoms may or may not be present. If they are present, they appear one to four days before or after the rash starts.

These symptoms usually appear between five to 21 days after exposure. Recovery time for most people is between two to four weeks.

Brett Morrow, Chief Communications Officer for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, said the risk of contracting monkeypox is very low, taking into account the most current data. A vaccine that is given subcutaneously, beneath the skin, named JYNNEOS is currently being used for persons that fit the criteria for vaccination. 

Those that need to make an appointment for a vaccine can use www.myturn.ca.gov, the same website that is used for COVID-19 appointments. Morrow said supplies of the monkeypox vaccine are currently adequate. The LACDPH’s website said the criteria for vaccination includes the following:

Gay or bisexual men, or any men or transgender people who have sex with men or transgender people.

Persons of any gender or sexual orientation who engage in commercial and/or transactional sex [for example those that engage in] sex in exchange for money, shelter, food, or other goods or needs.

People living with HIV, especially persons with uncontrolled or advanced HIV disease.

Persons who had skin-to-skin or intimate contact with someone with suspected or confirmed monkeypox, including those who have not yet been confirmed by Public Health.

“If you are immunocompromised, including uncontrolled or advanced HIV, you may be at high risk for severe disease and will be prioritized for vaccination,” the LACDPH’s website said.

During the ELAC Foundations event, the consensus was that monkeypox infections in Latino communities are starting to go up. The virus, along with its physical issues, also comes with a social stigma in Latino communities. Jeffery Reynoso, a doctor speaking from the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said people in communities with lower resources, in this case Latinos, are more likely to be infected. 

He said Latinos have the highest infection rate in LA County. Latinos and the Latino LGBTQ+ community are some of the most vulnerable. Reynoso said these groups feel intimidated or afraid to reach out for information when it comes to diseases like monkeypox.

Loya said the idea now is to get vaccine accessibility to the communities of East and South-East Los Angeles. He said there is a stigma for those looking for information on or for monkeypox vaccines. He said media outlet’s information focused on how monkeypox was specifically affecting LGBTQ+ people. 

Loya said this made it seem that LGBTQ+ people were the only ones being infected. He said public institutions aren’t helping matters in their specifying LGBTQ+ groups that are at risk of being infected with monkeypox.

“This, alongside the discourse the media had created, put individuals in situations where they could be outed for their sexual orientation and/or their sexual health history,” Loya said.

This stigma is something that Loya said was important to dispel. He said informing the public that close contact for long durations is the main mode of transmission would help people understand that sexual orientation is not the mode of infection.

Sherill Brown, a doctor at AltaMed Health Services, said the stigma surrounding monkeypox has made it difficult to get patients to feel comfortable with disclosing intimate information. She said newly infected people are from different groups than before. 

There is a larger number of people that live in multigenerational homes versus what was originally groups of people who could afford being isolated from family and friends. Brown said most information that was available from public health sites was clinical and not tailored for local communities.

“Many of our patients are monolingual Spanish. So a lot of the resources that we had were all in English and we had to translate them to Spanish. So that was difficult getting that information out initially to our patients,” Brown said.

Morrow said the LACDPH translates everything into multiple languages, with Spanish being a primarily translated language. monkeypox information can be found at this link http://ph.lacounty.gov/media/Monkeypox/resources.htm. 

Morrow said at first the supply of vaccines being used for monkeypox, TPOXX was low. This vaccine is used to combat Smallpox. The use of the vaccine was focused on those that met certain criteria. He said if Los Angeles residents have questions concerning treatment, vaccines or general information concerning monkeypox, they can call the Public Health Call Center at 1-833-540-0473. 

The center is open seven days a week 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. More information can be found on the Public Health’s website for monkeypox at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/monkeypox/vaccine.htm.

The ELAC Foundation event was held almost entirely in Spanish. Jeffery King, representing the Black community group In the Meantime Men, was present at the event as well. 

Campus News reached out to Armond Aghakhanian, director of the ELAC Foundation, for information on why the event was focused solely on Black, Latino and Latinx communities and if other events would include other members of the community. No response was received by this issue’s print deadline.

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