Frustration over government response to monkeypox outbreak sparks anger in SF’s LGBTQ community

Members of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community expressed frustration and anger at the government’s response as the city of San Francisco declared a state of emergency on Thursday over an increase in monkeypox.

Referring to the population most affected by the outbreak, officials said Thursday that officials “want to reaffirm our commitment to the health of LGBTQ communities in San Francisco, as we have historically done as a city.”

But among LGBTQ residents, hours-long wait lines for the vaccine and a lack of knowledge about best practices to prevent transmission, as well as vaccine shortages, were common complaints. The lack of centralized information on prescribing vaccinations was also a concern.

“Information is coming down the drain and it’s not getting to the people who really need it the most fast enough,” said drag performer and LGBTQ activist Juanita Mohr.

Monkey pox in the Bay Area

In the city’s spectacular scene, More, a well-known organizer, was able to make an appointment through his doctor to receive his first dose of the vaccine. But she said she worries that because of a lack of information, others in the nightlife community, as well as sex workers who are “always in contact with people,” are not being prioritized.

Anyone can contract monkeypox, but during the current outbreak, it was spread mainly through male-to-male sex.

SF Health Officer Dr. Susan Phillips (left), City Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor of London Breed are fighting the monkey disease.

Scott Strazzante/Chronicle

Outside the Castro District Health Center, which is run by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Tom Lappin, 68, said he had hoped to get the vaccine Thursday — after his doctor urged him to do so because he has cancer — but by afternoon he was told there were more than 1,000 people on the waiting list.

“I’m worried,” Lappin said, adding that the lack of accurate information about the virus and the disorganized response are making her and her husband think twice about things like sharing washing machines with neighbors. He said many residents like him are hearing echoes of the AIDS crisis, and the current mindset is, “It’s just hitting gay people, and we don’t care, so why don’t we send vaccines?”

In a report Wednesday, San Francisco officials said 261 people had confirmed or possible monkeypox infections, more than 30% of which affected Latinos across the city. Health officials also said they expect more cases in the coming weeks.

Honey Mahogany, chairman of the San Francisco Democratic Party and candidate for county six supervisor, was blunt in her assessment of the official response:

“I think our government has really failed in its response to this epidemic,” he said before the state of emergency was declared.

Honey Mahogany poses for a portrait on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in San Francisco County, California.  San Francisco has declared a state of emergency due to monkeypox.
Honey Mahogany poses for a portrait on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in San Francisco County, California. San Francisco has declared a monkey disease emergency.Ethan Swope / The Chronicle

“We should have learned a lesson from the HIV and AIDS crisis: just because it affects one community doesn’t mean it can’t spread quickly and affect others,” Mahogany said.

“Furthermore, I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons from COVID-19,” he said. “We’ve just gone through it, and many of these systems haven’t been completely dismantled. Why couldn’t we use these systems to get people vaccinated against monkeypox?’

After San Francisco’s subsequent announcement, he said federal action was needed: “It’s time! We need a local but also a national emergency so we can deal with this effectively. We know how to do it and we have the tools.”

While Tyler TerMeer, executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, welcomed Thursday’s decision to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, he said the foundation and San Francisco’s queer community have been sounding the alarm about the rapid spread of monkeypox since May. , and vaccine availability is still seriously lacking.

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