The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) announced on Thursday it is expanding the eligibility criteria for receiving a monkeypox vaccine to include LGBTQ+ Mississippians at risk of infection. 

Mississippi’s initial allotment of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine included enough doses to inoculate 300 people. Due to the limited supply, the vaccine has only been available to those who have had close, intimate contact with an infected person.

Now, Mississippians over the age of 18 who identify as gay, bisexual or transgender may be eligible for vaccination if they report having multiple or anonymous sexual partners or have attended an event where the virus may have been transmitted. 

“While anyone who is exposed to monkeypox through close person-to-person or intimate contact may become infected, most of the cases being seen in this outbreak are among individuals who are gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said in a statement. 

The monkeypox vaccine is only available by appointment at county health department clinics in the following counties: Lee, Panola, Leflore, Lowndes, Lauderdale, Adams, Hinds, Forrest, and Harrison. Those who wish to check their eligibility and schedule an appointment can do so by calling MSDH’s Monkeypox Call Center at 1-877-978-6453.

Though MSDH has expanded eligibility, supplies are extremely limited, and the department still does not know how many more doses the state will receive through the rest of the year.

The monkeypox virus has spread to dozens of countries and infected more than 31,000 people worldwide since the outbreak began in May. Eleven cases have been identified in Mississippi to date. As of Aug. 11, there were 10,768 confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. 

Monkeypox, which is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox, has not caused any deaths outside of Africa during the current outbreak, but does produce painful symptoms. Transmission often occurs through close skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Airborne transmission can also occur during prolonged close contact with an infected person.

Symptoms of monkeypox can include: fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. Infected persons often experience a rash that looks like pimples or blisters that appear on many parts of the body and fill with pus over time. The illness typically lasts for two to four weeks, and after an infected person’s pustules scab over, and the scabs fall off, they are no longer infectious.

The Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency on Aug. 4. In addition to increasing public awareness of the virus, the declaration frees up federal funding for the further creation and vetting of medical treatments.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency on July 23, the first time it has taken this step since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Monkeypox, COVID-19 and polio are the only diseases that have this designation.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.