Oregon’s eligibility guidance for monkeypox vaccines no longer refers to sexual orientation or gender, according to an announcement from the state’s Health Authority on Thursday.
Anyone is eligible for the vaccine if they know someone who has had monkeypox and has had, or anticipates having, direct, skin-to-skin contact with at least one other person. Oregon Health Authority officials said in a statement that they have learned that mentioning gender and sexual orientation was a barrier for some people seeking vaccinations.
“It was a community-based process,” Dr. Tim Menza, the senior health advisor of the agency’s monkeypox response, said in a statement. “We heard loud and clear that if we wanted to get people in the door to get vaccinated against monkeypox, we needed to rethink how we talked about who is at greatest risk of infection.”
The public health agency is also encouraging “venue-based” vaccine events at places frequented by people in the community most affected by monkeypox, men who have sex with men.
“For example, OHA and partners have been offering vaccines at large community events, nightclubs and bathhouses,” the statement reads.
Exactly how to approach public messaging about the monkeypox outbreak in Oregon, which is primarily affecting a small portion of the population in an outsized way, has been difficult from the beginning, public health officials have told OPB. The goal has been to get information to the people who need it most without stoking undue fear of the disease, nor propagating prejudices about the most-affected community.
“It’s quite the challenge,” Menza told OPB in early August. “What we’ve been trying to do as best as we can is stick with what we know.”
After an initial rush to get limited vaccines, demand has dropped significantly in the last four weeks, according to Menza.
“We need to reinvigorate our vaccination campaign and find new ways to get the vaccine to people who most need it,” he said in a statement.