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Two doses of monkeypox vaccine urged amid uptick in Oregon cases

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By MAX EGENER
Oregon Capital Bureau

Oregon health officials are urging people to stay vigilant and get two doses of the vaccine for mpox — formerly known as monkeypox or hMPXV — after a recent uptick in cases of the virus.

“While the number of new mpox cases in Oregon has been on a steady decline, this latest increase in cases tells us that mpox is still here,” said Tim Menza, senior health advisor for the Oregon Health Authority’s mpox response.

The World Health Organization announced a long-awaited name change on Monday, Nov. 28, for the decades-old disease that causes people to develop a painful skin rash or sores, saying that its original name plays into “racist and stigmatizing language.”

After an outbreak of the virus that started earlier this year peaked in August at 10 to 15 per week statewide, the number of cases in Oregon dropped, with only two or three cases being reported per week at its lowest levels, Menza said.

This month has seen a rise in cases, however, with 19 cases being reported since Nov. 9, health officials reported on Tuesday.

There have been 265 cases of mpox in Oregon, with 65% of them in Multnomah County, according to state data.

The highest infection rates are among men, Black and Latino/Hispanic people and those aged between 30 and 39.

Gay and bisexual men have made up the majority of cases, although health officials emphasize the virus can infect anyone and there’s nothing specific about people who have sex with men that puts them at higher risk.

Mpox spreads primarily through close, skin-to-skin contact, most often through intimate or sexual contact. It can also spread during contact with the lesions of an infected individual through a caregiving relationship, such as a parent caring for a child or an adult caretaker of another person.

Oregon health officials are urging medical providers to keep mpox in mind when seeing patients with consistent symptoms regardless of reported risk.

Menza said the initial large decrease in cases in Oregon and nationwide was a result of changes in behavior driven by a community-based response. This summer, Multnomah County health officials met with community groups that serve the LGBTQ, Black and Latino communities to share information about mpox and make prevention resources, including vaccines, available. They also worked with LGBTQ bars to boost education efforts.

There are many at-risk people who have not yet received a first dose of the mpox vaccine, Jynneos, who would benefit from it, according to Menza. While 17,300 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Oregon, there are about 6,000 people who are eligible for a second dose but have not yet received it. Second doses may lengthen the duration of protection and prevent future outbreaks, health officials say.

Recently, public health officials have been calling or texting people who have received one dose of the vaccine to encourage them to get a second one, according to the health authority. They’ve also been advertising the vaccine’s availability at federally qualified health centers and encouraging pharmacies to emphasize it as part of sexual health care.

Case interviews with unvaccinated people recently diagnosed with mpox have revealed barriers to getting people vaccinated, health officials said.

“Some people reported that their health care providers have not offered them vaccination, that they did not know that vaccine was available and that they didn’t know how to get vaccinated,” Menza said. “Some told us that they had planned to get vaccinated but had put it off, or they assumed they had protection due to prior smallpox vaccination as a child.”

Others thought they weren’t at risk for mpox or didn’t think it was a serious virus, Menza suggested.

People who suspect they have mpox should contact their health care provider to let them know before going in to be seen. Those who don’t have a health care provider can call 2-1-1 or their local public health authority to get help finding a clinic or health care provider. Vaccine clinics can also be searched by ZIP code with an mpox vaccine locator tool available at mpoxvaxmap.org.

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