Mpox’s Bittersweet Defeat

for a few In the weeks of this summer, the world worried that monkeypox could become the next global epidemic. At its peak in early August, the US was recording 600 cases a day, and the inept response from health officials reflected the early days of Covid-19. Vaccines were slow to arrive and fell short for most of the fall. The test was the bottleneck. Antiviral drugs, although they did exist, were virtually unavailable as they were not federally authorized for the disease. While most cases were among gay and bisexual men, it was feared that the infection, which is rarely fatal but often extremely painful and can take weeks to heal, could spread to the wider population.

Things look very different today, at least for now. By mid-December mpox, as the World Health Organization now renames it, had appeared in 110 countries, but the spread slowed significantly. The US, which had recorded 29,740 cases as of December 21 – more than a third of the global total – was only recording a handful of cases each day.

One reason for this is increased access to vaccines and testing, and another is that while mpox is inherently much more difficult to transmit than Covid, the biggest thing most agree is that those most at risk can take their protection into their own hands during the critical early stages. they receive. weeks hurled by the authorities. “Success was community mobilization,” says Joseph Osmundson, a queer activist, molecular microbiologist, and clinical assistant professor at New York University.

Osmundson helped broker what could be taken as a symbol of the response to mpox: a fleet of tall, whitewashed vans with windows masked for privacy. Inside, each van had a mobile immunization clinic operated by the New York City health department. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, these vans parked in front of bars and clubs serving gay and bisexual men late at night, some of which hosted orgies. (Many of these parties also closed voluntarily for a time.) The queer community told the city where people would be most at risk, and venue owners agreed that protecting their customers was worth the potential stigma of parking vans outside. The Van vaccination program administered more than 3,000 doses.

The program showed that a health department was smart about where to find people who needed help, but it equally represented a community that was not willing to wait for the health bureaucracy to find them. Since the beginning of the Mpox epidemic, gay and bisexual men, as well as others in the queer community, have reached out, annoyed and unsettled. Some of those afflicted have posted videos online or given press interviews describing their symptoms in candid detail, defying the risk of social embarrassment (“Cuffed with monkeypox, guess what”) to warn others of the risks. At a time when most doctors had never seen mpox cases before, people posted information on social media and WhatsApp groups about which clinics still had vaccines available or how to diagnose them. Those lucky enough to receive antiviral treatments before they became generally available distributed advice for people to pass on to their doctors about navigating the mind-numbing bureaucracy for individual empowerment.

Almost everyone agrees that gay men, especially those with multiple sexual partners, are lauded for the decline in the number of cases on the ski slope. Men who feel at risk voluntarily avoid sex, stay with one or more partners, quit hookup apps, or skip partying, as research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed this fall. Where is group sex?

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