Racial Disparities in Monkeypox (MPV) Cases and Vaccine Access Persist as Outbreak Stretches On

Although monkeypox (MPV) transmission nationwide appears to be slowing down, racial gaps in MPV cases and vaccine distribution are widening, according to the latest CDC data.

The CDC’s Monkeypox Case Demographics tracker is updated weekly with new information from states and jurisdictions throughout the United States. Per the latest figures, Black people account for a whopping 41% of new MPV cases from August 28–September 4, despite being only 12.4% of the U.S. population. Cases among Latinx people have declined slightly to 27%, but still outpace the total Latinx population in the U.S. of 18.7%.

Black and Latinx people are also significantly underrepresented in the 540,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine administered nationwide. The CDC currently recommends the vaccine for individuals at high risk of MPV exposure, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who have had multiple recent sex partners. As of September 13, Latinx folks have received roughly 17% of doses; Black people have received less than 10%.

MPV basics

These gaps haven’t closed much since GLAAD first covered racial disparities in the MPV outbreak in August. In fact, the proportion of vaccine doses given to Black people has actually decreased by a percentage point since then. Given these ongoing inequities, public health experts are cautioning against prematurely celebrating an apparent decline in the rate of MPV case growth nationwide.

“We can’t end monkeypox until we end monkeypox in everyone,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Coordinator of the White House National Monkeypox Response team, said in a public HHS briefing last Thursday.

The 2022 MPV outbreak is shedding light on existing racial inequities within the U.S. healthcare infrastructure. Additionally, intradermal delivery of the JYNNEOS vaccine—which the FDA authorized in August to expand the overall vaccine supply—is not recommended for people with a family history of keloid scarring. Subcutaneous injection of the JYNNEOS vaccine is still an option, yet it is no longer the dominant mode of vaccine delivery. This could be a deterrent for Black people, who develop keloids at much higher rates than any other racial group.

To combat these inequities, public health officials with the Biden administration are piloting a series of equity intervention initiatives to get MPV vaccines to populations who need them most. Some of these programs allocate vaccine doses for large-scale LGBTQ events, while others, including a small-scale vaccine equity initiative the CDC unveiled last week, target hyper-local community health clinics. The hope is to reach groups that face substantial barriers to obtaining vaccines, such as immigration status, language barriers, lack of access to online scheduling, vaccine hesitancy, and stigma.

“We have a responsibility to address inequities that have been highlighted by this outbreak, and this program will help make a difference,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “This outbreak is affecting members of the gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men community at an unequal rate, and it has disproportionately affected the Black and Hispanic communities. Distributing monkeypox vaccines in a way that addresses and reduces these disparities is the goal of this program and is a high priority for CDC and our public health partners.”

Direct, skin-to-skin contact during sex is the primary mode of MPV transmission in this outbreak. As a result, many gay and bi men have also reported temporarily reducing certain behaviors associated with MPV spread, such as having multiple sex partners or engaging in one-time sexual encounters. This layered approach of pairing individual behavior changes with medical interventions like the JYNNEOS vaccine is crucial to keeping our communities safe and curbing the spread of MPV. 

To learn more about MPV news and prevention, visit GLAAD.org/mpv.