Alaska in Brief

More Alaskans now eligible for monkeypox vaccine, and some seem eager for that protection

By: - August 19, 2022 6:13 pm
A vial containing the monkeypox vaccine is seein on July 23, 2022, in London, England. This type of vaccine, called JYNNEOS or Imvanex, is available in Alaska for anyone who has been in contact with infected individuals. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

A vial containing the monkeypox vaccine is seen on July 23, 2022, in London, England. This type of vaccine, called JYNNEOS or Imvanex, is available in Alaska for anyone who has been in contact with infected individuals or who is in a newly expanded category considered to be at elevated risk of infection. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Alaska has expanded the eligibility for vaccination to prevent monkeypox, and residents are taking up on the offers for protection against the virus, officials with the state Department of Health said on Friday.

The department last week broadened eligibility standards to include people who have been in contact with someone exposed to monkeypox or at high risk of exposure, as well as people who have had multiple male-to-male sexual partners or anonymous sex over the last six months.

The main eligibility expansion concerns the timeframe of past sexual contacts, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist. Previously, that timeframe was two weeks, he said.

So far, Alaska has reported three cases of monkeypox among state residents and one case of a nonresident, according to the department.

Although that is a low number, Alaskans appear to welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated, McLaughlin said. One pop-up clinic in Anchorage reported that it had vaccinated 38 people by 3 p.m. Friday, with more people waiting for the service, McLaughlin said by email.

As of now, every U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have reported cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the U.S. cases have been concentrated among gay and bisexual men, health officials in Alaska are trying to avoid casting monkeypox as relevant to only that part of the population, McLaughlin said.

“We are trying very hard to inform the public about the fact that this virus does not discriminate by age, sex, race, sexual preferences, or any other demographic factor. It will infect anyone it can,” he said.

It is true that the data shows that nationally, most cases are among men who have had sex or intimate contact with other men, he said. 

“However, women and children have also been infected. Over time, more and more women and children will become infected as the outbreak continues to unfold,” he said.

The state has partnered with tribal organizations to ensure vaccine access for anyone who has been exposed or is considered to be at risk for exposure, the department said.Along with the JYNNEOS vaccine that is available in Alaska, the state has received from the federal government a small supply of medicine to treat infected people. That medicine, tecovirimat (TPOXX), is licensed for treatment of smallpox but is now being used for treatment of monkeypox under new federal guidelines, the Department of Health said.

Globally, there have been over 41,000 cases of monkeypox in this year’s outbreak, the vast majority of them in places where monkeypox was not historically present, according to the CDC. Globally, 12 people had died from the disease as of Friday, with no U.S. deaths reported, the CDC said.

In the past, monkeypox was largely confined to rainforest regions of Africa, and death rates were as high as 11%, with young children at highest risk, according to the World Health Organization. In more recent times – but prior to the current outbreak — death rates ranged between 3% and 6%, according to the WHO.


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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.