the two-pronged fight to get vaccinated and end queer stigma

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — When the pandemic hit, 24-year-old Josh Porter picked up walking, needing a hobby to make the isolation a little easier.

“I was just kinda running and walking on my own during the pandemic,” said Porter.

Eventually, he found Frontrunners Lexington, an inclusive group of queer walkers and runners. He’s been a part of the group for two years now.

“I’ve made so many friends through it,” he said.

On Wednesday, as he walked, Porter was thinking about his friends and wanting to protect them as Moneypox cases increase across the country.

Porter says despite their efforts, neither he nor his friends have been able to secure a vaccination.

“All the people I know want to help, and want to be safe, and want to get vaccinated, but it’s not really likely right now. It’s not really easy to do,” said Porter.

He says long wait times over the phone for limited appointments have made it discouraging. Porter says he’s now avoiding risky areas until one becomes available.

There’s been a lot of criticism about how the U.S. is handling Monkeypox from the messaging and influx of information to the absence of data and low supply of monkeypox vaccines.

Dr. Steven Stack, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health says he understands the frustration over the lack of access to vaccines.

“We share the frustration. Part of the big challenge is there’s only so much to go around,” said Stack.

Stack says Kentucky’s first allocation was only 296 doses so they could only treat 150 people.

More shipments came and they’re now up to around 3,700 doses, but they are still in need of more.

“It feels more like calling the radio station to win a prize than actually calling to schedule for something you need. So, we are working as aggressively as we can with the supply we have. And we will in the weeks ahead do our very best to try to make it clearer and more available to folks. But right now, there just simply is not enough supply to make it available to all the persons who would like to receive it,” said Stack.

Right now, the priority for vaccines is

“The current strategy because of the small supply is to provide it as post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP to those people who have a known direct exposure to someone with Monkeypox and also to provide it for people in what the CDC has called PEP plus for some reason,” said Stack. “We don’t know how they came up with the plus part but that is for people who are in a high-risk population who have been at maybe events or activities that would place them at high risk, even if we don’t know that they have directly been exposed to the virus.”

In the meantime, organizations that worked to fight HIV and AIDS stigma like AVOL Kentucky are now working to help with the messaging around monkeypox.

“We’ve been fighting stigma for the last 30 years so this is nothing new to us,” said Executive Director Jon Parker.

Parker says they’ve been using their mobile unit to help educate the public and take resources into the community.

For health professionals, their messaging is a delicate balance of making sure the population currently disproportionately impacted by Monkeypox knows how serious it is, while also not singling them out.

“Cases we’ve seen so far in the United States have been among gay populations, but we’re here to say that the Monkeypox virus is like any other virus anybody can get it,” said Parker.

Stack says knowing that as a gay or bi-sexual man, your risk is higher right now could help protect more people.

“It’s very important for us to first make sure that the population of people who are most impacted, in this case, the male men who have sex with men, understand that it is impacting their community the most at the moment so that when they hear people like me talk, they hear the message and know it’s very important that they attend to what we’re saying, and hopefully take steps to protect themselves and reduce their risk,” said Stack. “But it’s also important for the rest of society to keep in mind, we’re all in this together. COVID has shown very clearly, even though it spreads very differently, that we’re all in this together, and we’re not all safe until each of us and every one of us is safe.”

As a gay man, Porter says the stigma against the queer community because of ignorance and misinformation, makes dealing with the public health emergency tougher.

“It definitely makes it complicated to talk about. You want to fight the idea that this is a gay disease because it’s really not. It’s not a gay disease, it’s not an STD, that’s not what it is. However, that is a stigma that exists,” said Porter.

But he’s grateful for the education and the progress he’s seeing.





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