116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — This weekend, 200 people at higher risk for monkeypox in Eastern Iowa will receive some of the first vaccine doses distributed for broader use as public health officials move quickly to contain another public health emergency.
With a limited number of doses available, Linn County Public Health and Johnson County Public Health have established the first two monkeypox clinics in the counties mostly through word-of-mouth.
Through partnerships with local LGBTQ bars and nightclubs, 200 individuals already have signed up for all of the slots available to receive the vaccine at Basix in Cedar Rapids and Eden Lounge Nightclub in Iowa City.
Another 80 doses will go to Black Hawk County.
As of Friday, Iowa had 15 confirmed monkeypox cases. Monkeypox, which begins as a rash that initially looks like pimples or blisters, is rarely fatal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Linn County is one of four counties and one of five entities to receive a share of 2,569 vaccine doses from the state. The state has requested another 1,441 doses, Iowa Health and Human Services told The Gazette.
Polk County, Scott County, Woodbury County and Primary Health Care Outreach in Polk County also have received doses from the state to implement in a quickly evolving strategy to keep more monkeypox cases at bay.
“Within a week, the vaccination strategy for the state has changed and may be changing again in the near future as well,” said Sam Jarvis, community health division manager for Johnson County Public Health. “We’re all very nimble and know that it behooves us to pivot at a moment’s notice, but that sort of action on our part requires strong partnerships, information sharing and staff to support these operations in short notice.”
Johnson County, which was not chosen for an allocation of larger monkeypox vaccine shipments, is able to hold the first clinic thanks to sharing from Linn County Public Health.
“We’re all a little frazzled. We’re trying to do what we can to get these up and going right away to help protect individuals,” said Heather Meador, clinical branch supervisor for Linn County Public Health. “We know that this is not the perfect response — we’re very aware of that — but it’s something we have to do quickly so we can continue to receive doses from the federal government.”
Those who qualify for the limited doses are mostly gay and bisexual men and transgender adults who are in higher risk categories due to:
- Having new or multiple sex partners within the last 30 days
- Having had close contact with others at a venue or event in the last 30 days where a suspected, probable or confirmed case of monkeypox was identified
- Having had close contact with someone suspected, probable or confirmed as having monkeypox
Until now, the state has prioritized vaccination of people in close contact with those infected with monkeypox. Now, the state is shifting strategies to vaccinate those at highest risk for getting it, according to Sara Ekstrand, public information officer for the state health department.
The state has used population estimates, syphilis diagnoses, HIV testing numbers and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis utilization (PrEP) to determine where to send doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine.
“These providers were selected because they are best positioned to reach the eligible population,” Ekstrand said. “Eligible close contacts are offered the option to receive vaccine as soon as they are identified or contacted and can choose to schedule an appointment with a vaccine provider.”
Though the general population is not at high risk for monkeypox, which is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and close contact like kissing, public health officials have been acutely cognizant of the perceptions and messaging surrounding the virus as they work to distribute the vaccine supply as quickly as possible.
The clinics hosted at Basix and Eden — both owned by Jason Zeman and two partners in Corridor Entertainment Group — came about thanks in part to collaboration behind the scenes with Zeman, Cedar Rapids Pride and public health partners.
“The stigma is coming out that it’s a gay disease because it’s impacting members of the LGBTQ community at a greater pace than the population as a whole,” said Corey Jacobson, president of Cedar Rapids Pride. “It’s important for everyone to understand that anyone can get this.”
And only months after Cedar Rapids’ only LGBTQ bar was at risk of closing, the role of the LGBTQ-owned business has once again shown its value as gay bars lead the charge in confronting a health issue.
The vaccine, originally developed for smallpox, is 85 percent effective against monkeypox after two doses. Recipients must wait at least 28 days in between doses. Linn County Public Health does not know when it will receive more doses or how many it may receive in the future.
“We don't know when the second dose will be available. We can't guarantee it will be available in the 28 to 35-day window, but some protection is better than no protection,” Meador said. “One dose is going to start the (immune) response … so if you are exposed and you do become sick, that your infection is not as severe.”
Recipients can still receive their second dose after the 35-day window without starting the series over again.
Linn, Johnson and Black Hawk counties have created a survey to gauge interest of those interested in receiving the monkeypox vaccine and capture their contact information to notify them when more doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine are available.
To complete the survey, go to linncountyiowa.gov/1695/monkeypox.
Erin Jordan of The Gazette contributed to this report.