FLORIDA — With monkeypox on the rise globally, across the United States and in Florida — which has at least 27 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning — orthopoxvirus vaccines are being made more readily available to those most at risk, according to federal public health officials.
Not everyone will have access to the vaccine immediately. Communities with the highest number of cases and people most at-risk for illness are being prioritized during the vaccine’s initial distribution, the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.
There are 4,769 known cases of monkeypox globally, including 305 cases in the United States, as of Wednesday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While CDC data shows that the Sunshine State has 27 cases confirmed so far this year, the Florida Department of Health has reported 35 cases. Broward County reported the highest number of cases with 21, Miami-Dade County reported six, Orange County confirmed three, and Collier, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, and Seminole counties has each had one case so far, according to FDOH data.
This puts Florida among the states with the highest number of monkeypox cases. California has the most confirmed monkeypox cases with 66, followed by New York with 63 and Illinois with 45, the CDC said.
Monkeypox, which is usually contained to central and west Africa, is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically spreads by skin-to-skin contact. Infections can cause flu-like symptoms as well as swelling of the lymph nodes and a rash. The rash usually contains bumps that initially fill with fluid before scabbing over, according to the CDC.
The symptoms could be confused with those of chicken pox or a sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis or herpes. Infections can last up to four weeks.
Monkeypox and smallpox are both orthopoxviruses, and smallpox vaccines are effective against preventing the disease.
In areas with highest transmission, roughly 300,000 vaccines will be available in the coming weeks and another 750,000 doses will be available over the summer, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The vaccine that will be provided is the JYNNEOS vaccine, which is approved by the FDA to prevent smallpox, monkeypox and other diseases caused by orthopoxviruses.
Officials plan on allocating doses based on a four-tier system — prioritizing jurisdictions with the highest case rates and within each tier, vaccines will be distributed based on the number of people at risk for monkeypox who also have pre-existing conditions like HIV. Those who’ve had confirmed or a presumed exposure to monkeypox will also be prioritized.
“We are focused on making sure the public and health care providers are aware of the risks posed by monkeypox and that there are steps they can take —through seeking testing, vaccines and treatments — to stay healthy and stop the spread,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement.
The initial tier of vaccine recipients includes Hawaii, Massachusetts, Utah, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, California, Colorado, Florida and Washington, D.C., according to the Washington Post.
Vaccination is recommended within 14 days of being exposed to a person infected with monkeypox for those with high and intermediate exposure risks, according to the Florida Department of Health. Ideally, vaccinations should happen as soon as possible, within four days of exposure, to reduce the onset of symptoms.
People facing certain job-related risks, such as public health laboratory staff, should also get the vaccine, the agency said.
The preventive vaccine is available to Floridians through their county health department, which can be found here. Each county might have its own distribution plan, so it’s best to reach out to local health authorities, an FDOH spokesperson told Patch.
An older smallpox vaccine is in greater supply and health jurisdictions have the option of requesting shipments. However, the department warns that the vaccine has significant side effects and is not recommended for everyone.