Councilmember Crystal Hudson at press conference Credit: Contributed photo

Councilmembers Crystal Hudson, Chi Osse, and the LGBTQIA+ Caucus introduced a package of bills last week to address the monkeypox crisis as well as vaccination equity and public outreach, just as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.

“This City has had more than two years to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic; to study its missteps and put into place a rapid response plan to handle any future outbreaks of infectious disease effectively and efficiently,” said Hudson in a statement.

Monkeypox (MPV) is usually a rare virus, part of the Orthopoxvirus family, that’s had a recent resurgence globally. It’s characterized by non-fatal flu-like symptoms with swelling of the lymph nodes and bumpy rashes on the face and body. It first popped up in New York City back in May this year, according to the city. By June 23, the available vaccination appointments for the impacted LGBTQIA+ community were booked. Into July, supply was dwindling and the city’s online booking system was struggling to keep up with the high demand for vaccines. On July 13, Mayor Eric Adams had to declare a monkeypox epidemic in the city. 

As of last week there’s 2,000 known cases of monkeypox in the city. 

“When faced with the recent surge of the monkeypox virus, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene [DOHMH] has dragged its feet despite early warnings from health experts and advocates, proving entirely unprepared to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers,” continued Hudson.

Hudson said the bills introduced by the LGBTQIA+ Caucus will ensure DOHMH better delivers care and can more effectively curb the spread of MPV and any future outbreaks of infectious diseases. The bills will require the health department to implement an education and outreach campaign about the outbreak, ensure that communities most at risk of contracting the virus have sufficient access to vaccines, and create a permanent vaccine portal that allows New Yorkers to schedule vaccination appointments for infectious diseases including MPV and COVID-19, said Hudson. 

At the moment the monkeypox vaccine is available for at-risk populations, which means over 18 years old; gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, or gender non-binary; and having had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days.

LGBTQIA+ Caucus Co-Chair Tiffany Cabán said she was very proud to introduce this package of bills. “After nearly three years of a global pandemic, it is unconscionable for our public institutions to fail so badly at swiftly vaccinating the highest-risk cohort. The ‘wait-and-see’ approach that officeholders have chosen has already lasted too long,” said Cabán.

Cabán said that “affluent white neighbors” should not be the only New Yorkers with access to vaccines. 

“The spread of this contagious virus is extremely worrisome and deserves urgent attention. As vaccines continue to arrive, it is imperative that the city equitably distribute resources so all New Yorkers who are eligible have access to the vaccine,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams in a statement.

Adams and Councilmember Lynn Schulman also spoke, in a joint statement, about the concerning detection of polio in the city. 

“As we continue to grapple with COVID-19 and monkeypox, we now face another public health risk, but the defense is simple and proven. It is imperative that all New Yorkers make sure they have received their full polio vaccination, which is standard for children and nearly 100% effective. There are clear disparities in the vaccination rate across our city, where some neighborhoods have less coverage and more risk. The City and all officials need to ensure we address these gaps so New Yorkers are protected from this virus,” said Adams and Schulman. 

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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