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How to battle monkeypox spread and stigma

The monkeypox outbreak is disproportionately affecting those who identify as LGBTQ+, which is why as vaccines roll out, so are the vaccine marketing plans.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The monkeypox outbreak is disproportionately affecting those who identify as LGBTQ+. That’s why as vaccines roll out, so are the vaccine marketing plans.

Healthcare providers are trying to reach those at risk without damaging public perception. It’s a fine line to walk, largely because the audience is a community that has been in a similar situation before.

Doctors from Equitas Health joined 150 organizations around the country in August, demanding a more culturally humble and urgent response from the government to monkeypox.

“Yes, the mortality rate is low, but we're still having an unprecedented number of cases,” said Dr. Rhea Debussy, who leads public policy efforts for Equitas Health. “The way public health issues emerge, [it] is not something that is uncommon for one population to be disproportionately affected and then for it to become an issue for a much larger population."

This virus opens a painful wound for the LGBTQ+ community with similarities to the HIV epidemic in the 1980s when a mysterious virus was claiming lives and dignity.

“Along with a death sentence, stigma defined what it meant to have HIV or AIDS,” said Dr. Ronald Bayer of Columbia University.

Bayer's research focuses on social justice related to AIDS. He studies why, for 15 years, no effective treatments were available.

With monkeypox, a vaccine is available. But the challenge is reaching those who are at-risk without implying the community it most affects is unclean, vulnerable or promiscuous.

“There’s a huge component of making sure you're being intentional with your marketing efforts and making sure you're communicating that something like monkeypox is not something that can only affect men who have sex with men or trans, non-binary gender-expansive folks. But based on the data we have now, that is who is being disproportionately affected, at this time,” Debussy said.

Dr. Shane Jeffers with Mount Carmel Medical Group said he simply tries to arm his patients with information.

“I had an 80-year-old woman ask me about getting that vaccine here recently. People don't know how it's spread. It's mostly through close contact, mostly sexual. It takes a lot of friction to really spread monkeypox. So you're not going to pick it up on the cart at the grocery store like a lot of people think,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers said that those who are eligible should make an appointment and get the vaccine as soon as possible.

To learn more about how Equitas is responding to the outbreak, head over to the Equitas website. For more information about the vaccine, head over to the Columbus Public Health website. 

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