With Few Confirmed Monkeypox Infections and Low Vaccine Supply, Ohio State Health Officials Preach Prevention

click to enlarge Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff - Ohio Department of Health
Ohio Department of Health
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff

Ohio Department of Health officials emphasized calm and caution during an update Thursday. Cases of Monkeypox are on the rise nationally, and COVID-19 continues to spread as children prepare to return to school. Both present challenges, health officials explained, but the state is well-positioned to respond.

Monkeypox

Monkeypox cases so far have come primarily from to the community of men who have sex with men. The latest data from the CDC show 99% of cases affect people assigned male at birth, and for those cases with information about sexual activity, 99% report male to male sexual contact.

As of Aug. 10, there are more than 10,000 cases of Monkeypox nationally. But since reporting it’s first case in June, Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff explained the state has confirmed just 75 cases.

“Most of Ohio’s cases are in our large metro areas, with only a few cases reported in other jurisdictions,” Vanderhoff said.

Unlike COVID-19, he said, Monkeypox spreads “mostly through close intimate contact with someone who has Monkeypox, most often through direct contact with the infectious rash, source scabs or body fluids from a person with Monkeypox or from respiratory secretions during prolonged face to face contact.”

Because of those limits on transmission, Vanderhoff said the risk of contracting the disease remains low for most Ohioans. The biggest challenge Ohio faces is short supply of the Jynneos vaccine.

“Because Ohio has had comparatively fewer cases than other states, our allocations have likewise been less than some harder hit states,” Vanderhoff said. “Rest assured that Ohio continues to actively advocate for more vaccines, and as more vaccine has become available has properly placed orders for the maximum allocated dose.”

Between a shipment of more than 5,000 doses that arrived this week and more on the way, health officials expect to eclipse 13,500 doses soon. And that supply will stretch even further since the FDA approved a shallower, intradermal injection that uses about 1/5 as much of the drug.

OhioHealth infectious disease medical director Dr. Joseph Gastaldo still urged caution.

“I think it’s important for people the community to realize that if you get the vaccine it’s not a Monkeypox free pass,” he warned, “meaning that you still have to wait to be fully vaccinated, and that is two weeks after the second dose to have the maximum protection for Monkeypox.”

COVID-19

The CDC also announced new guidance for COVID-19 Thursday. Among the changes, people exposed to the virus can skip quarantine but need to wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and test on the fifth day. The CDC still advises people who have contracted the virus to isolate from others regardless of their vaccination status.

Dr. Vanderhoff noted any health update where COVID-19 isn’t the first topic on the agenda is a good sign, but he stressed the virus is still circulating widely in the state. He insisted that getting fully vaccinated and boosted remains the best protection against severe disease.

Despite new variant-specific boosters planned for this fall, Vanderhoff urged anyone who is currently eligible for a booster to get it rather than wait.

“Waiting for that new booster may not however, be the best way to protect yourself now,” he said. “For older unvaccinated are not up to date on vaccinations and you’re at continued risk for more serious illness. I encourage anyone who’s not up to date with their vaccination, including those currently eligible for a first or second booster to seize this opportunity, to prepare for the fall.”

He also said the percentage of kids entering kindergarten fully immunized has slipped the last few years. Vanderhoff diplomatically chalked this up to COVID-19 limiting opportunities for doctors’ visits or remote learning reducing parents’ sense of urgency. Later he acknowledged vaccine-skepticism is likely playing some role as well.

Dr. Michael Forbes from Akron Children’s Hospital said they overcome that hesitancy by drawing connections to other everyday precautions.

“The message to families that we really try to communicate is we try to prevent what’s preventable,” Forbes said. “That’s what we do when it comes to helmets, seatbelts. Bad things can happen and do happen. But as parents we have a duty to protect our children. And so having an effective, safe vaccine that prevents these common illnesses I think is really important.”

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.
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