Frustration growing as community demands more monkeypox vaccines, testing, support

Representatives from Riverside County and the city of Palm Springs who were present on the Zoom call said they respected the urgency and are taking appropriate action.

Faced with concerns from area residents, representatives of local health care facilities, and others, the director of the California Department of Public Health on Tuesday sought to assure them that the state was doing all it could to combat monkeypox in and around Palm Springs.

During an online town hall arranged by HIV + Aging Research Project (HARP), Tomás Aragón said he had recently written a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requesting more vaccines be distributed to California.

“Keep your fingers crossed,” he said, referring to the process of distributing more vaccines. “We know it has been increasing at the national level, but It’s going to take some time.”

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Aragón’s request was met with urgent pleas to understand that Palm Springs should be considered a “hotspot” for monkeypox and therefore require a more urgent response.

“I wanted to just scream before I unmuted myself,” said David Wichman, a local massage and sex worker who has recently been vocal about the issue. “The county and all of us in this town hall can sit in these groups week after week and discuss what we can do and how we’re trying to do this, and still the same problem remains week after week that there is no vaccine available for us because our numbers aren’t high enough.”

What angers him most, Wichman said, is the inertia of the response, especially from the CDC and the federal government’s allocation of the monkeypox vaccine, to the growing number of cases and people suffering from the virus in and around Palm Springs.

“The state needs to be screaming their heads off at the feds,” said Wichman.

How urgent might the situation be? Tuesday evening, the Riverside County Department of Public Health reported the number of probable/confirmed cases increased to 18 – most of them from our area.

Representatives from Riverside County and the city of Palm Springs who were present on the Zoom call said they respected the urgency and are taking appropriate action.

“We’ve received hundreds of millions of dollars for COVID response and zero for this,” said Kim Saruwatari, the county’s director of public health. She added that the county is working to find the money and the resources to deal with the monkeypox virus, even if that means transferring some money from the county’s COVID-19 response program. 

“We hear you loud and clear,” Saruwatari said. “There needs to be more help for folks.”

Misty Plumley, the emergency medical specialist for Riverside County, said the county is working on getting clinics, local hospitals, and people who either don’t have health insurance or are underinsured better access to Tecovirimat (also known as TPOXX), an antiviral medication used to treat monkeypox.

However, securing the medication is “very laborious,” said Clayton Barbour of Borrego Health.

In Palm Springs, the audience was told, the city is beginning the process of trying to test wastewater for monkeypox, similar to a program used to test wastewater for COVID-19.

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