They wear face masks and keep social distance from others, obeying basic rules from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic — when the desperate need for vaccines far exceeded what the federal and state governments could provide.
However, many will leave empty-handed as local hospitals and clinics have had to rely on an inconsistent and insufficient supply of vaccines, a dilemma that has infuriated patients and advocates.
The San Francisco General opens the clinic doors at 8 a.m. and the line moves slowly. The hospital will distribute the available doses while supplies last.
For Cody Aarons, 31, it was his third attempt. He stood calmly with over 100 people already in front of him.
“I was in New York last month for work, and I tried with their online portal system and failed to get vaccinated,” said the health worker who thought he had better chances in San Francisco.
But 45 minutes into the day’s distribution, a hospital staff member came by with an announcement. “Guys, we’ve reached our limit for today,” he shouted. “However, we will try to find you more shots.”
Although there was no guarantee of receiving the monkeypox vaccine that day, Aarons – and just about everyone else online – stayed put.
“People want their vaccine,” said San Francisco board member Rafael Mandelman. “I know one person who was in this line four different days before finally getting the shot.”
Mandelman, who got up at 4:30 a.m. and waited hours to get his shot days earlier, is frustrated with the deployment.
“After going through a pandemic where we were able to discover a new vaccine, [and] distribute tens of millions of doses in a few months, the fact that with an existing known vaccine we cannot get more than these miserable little drops is very frustrating for people, ”he said.
Desperate and fearful
For healthcare workers, the outbreak is a frustrating new chapter after the punishment of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“At the peak of Covid vaccinations, we averaged 1,400 to 1,500 (doses) a day, so we are completely used to the mass vaccination process,” said nurse manager Merjo Roca.
But Roca and his staff are limited in what they can do given the shortage of vaccines.
San Francisco health officials initially requested 35,000 doses, but say they only got 12,000 from the federal stockpile. The state of California has informed city leaders that San Francisco will receive 10,700 more in the next allotment, but there is no clear indication of when those doses will arrive or how many will reach San Francisco General Hospital for distribution. .
“I think one of our biggest challenges is really the inconsistency of supply,” Roca said. “Our vaccination clinic prides itself on being able to help and vaccinate people when they walk through our doors, so it’s very difficult for all of our staff not to be able to do that and to have to turn people away and even not have a information to say when we will receive the next doses.”
With many people online fearing the rapid increase in monkeypox cases, clinic staff are feeling an added burden by not being able to deliver for everyone.
“It’s very difficult to listen to someone explain why they want the vaccine and why they need it and we just don’t have it,” Roca added.
“It felt like someone was taking a punch all over my body”
The government maintains that it acted with urgency and with the data. And there are clear differences between the current response and the response to HIV/AIDS. But some advocates say the perceived lack of government urgency to address a public health crisis affecting queer communities today mirrors what gay men were going through decades ago.
Exchanges between then-President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary and reporters in 1982 and 1983 indicate that the nation’s top officials and society at large saw the disease as a joke, not a matter of great concern.
This stemmed from the perception of AIDS as a “gay scourge” – a disease believed to be linked to the lifestyles and behaviors of gay men – although cases had also been reported in women, infants, people with hemophilia and people who inject drugs.
Now, over 40 years later, the gay community is once again grappling with a sense of ostracism and neglect from its own government.
“We have a responsibility not to stigmatize or further politicize this issue for a community that has long faced many issues, has long been marginalized in our community,” said Tyler TerMeer, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “Since the early days of the HIV epidemic in our country, we have seen our community abandoned by the federal government in its response,” he said.
The foundation opened in 1982 “in a time of crisis in our community, when the federal government failed us…there are parallels between then and now,” according to TerMeer.
“President Biden has asked us to explore all options on the table to address the monkeypox outbreak and protect at-risk communities,” said White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton. “We are applying the lessons learned from the battles we have fought – from the COVID response to wildfires to measles, and we will tackle this outbreak with the urgency this moment demands.”
Monkeypox is a poxvirus, related to smallpox and cowpox and it typically causes sores resembling pimples or blisters and flu-like symptoms such as fever, according to the CDC.
The lesions are usually concentrated on the arms and legs, but in the latest outbreak they appear more frequently on the genital and perianal area, raising concerns that monkeypox lesions could be mistaken for STDs. .
“I had between 600 and 800 lesions all over my body… It was like someone taking a punch all over my body. There were points where I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t touch the things,” said Kevin Kwong, who recently recovered from monkeypox after being diagnosed in early July.
He chronicled his ordeal on social media to raise awareness of the epidemic and now wants to “focus on de-stigmatizing the gay community”.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been 25,054 laboratory-confirmed cases as of August 3 and 122 probable cases.
But while the outbreak has disproportionately affected some gay communities, there is growing concern about the spread of the infection.
“This is a reminder that anyone, regardless of age or sexual orientation, can contract monkeypox if they come into contact with the virus,” the City of Long Beach warned, echoing the guidelines of the CDC that, although the risk of infection in children is low, they are “more likely to be exposed to monkeypox if they live in or have recently traveled to a community with higher infection rates.”
“We need everyone to rally behind this issue and quickly,” TerMeer said. “There is an impending window of time in which we can outpace the rapid spread of monkeypox across our country and that window continues to close.”
Harmeet Kaur, Augie Martin, Jen Christiansen, Carma Hassan and CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this story.