Monkeypox cases slow in Florida as vaccine supply improves

“I’m a lot more relaxed,” one expert says, but there are concerns about the vaccine’s effectiveness.
A health care worker prepares to administer a monkeypox vaccine at the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors on July 12. The average number of new infections in the state has dipped to 18 per day.
A health care worker prepares to administer a monkeypox vaccine at the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors on July 12. The average number of new infections in the state has dipped to 18 per day. [ JOE RAEDLE | Getty Images North America ]
Published Sept. 20, 2022|Updated Sept. 20, 2022

Monkeypox cases are slowing in Florida, and the vaccine supply has improved in Tampa Bay, according to health officials.

More people have become eligible for the shots, too.

“I’m a lot more relaxed about where we’re heading with monkeypox,” said Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University in Miami. “We’re starting to put a lid on this thing.”

The average number of new infections in Florida has dipped to 18 per day, and hot spots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties appear to be more under control, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of case data.

Hillsborough County, which has recorded nearly 200 cases since the global outbreak began in May, is averaging two infections per day. Pinellas County has diagnosed more than 120 cases this year and is averaging one infection per day. Pasco County has reported only 16 cases total, with two of those announced in the last week, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

Infections have slowed in the U.S. and abroad, said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a briefing with reporters Thursday.

“We approach this news with cautious optimism,” she said, noting that some parts of the U.S. have yet to see a slowdown in new cases.

In rural areas, there is “a lot less awareness, a lot more stigmatization of the (men who have sex with men) community” and “ample opportunity” for viral transmission to continue, said James Lawler, co-director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

There are also concerns about the effectiveness of Jynneos, the two-dose monkeypox shot, and signs of inequitable vaccine access for Black and Latino men in the U.S.

Black Americans have received only 12% of first-dose Jynneos shots, but during a recent seven-day span accounted for 38% of new cases, Walensky said Thursday.

Related: How to get a monkeypox vaccine in Tampa Bay

Why are cases slowing down?

Monkeypox, which is endemic in parts of central and west Africa, is a viral disease similar to smallpox but milder.

The virus can infect anyone, but during the current global outbreak, the majority of cases have been reported in men who have sex with men. Scientists believe monkeypox is primarily being transmitted during sexual contact.

Health officials have prioritized gay and bisexual men for the limited supply of Jynneos.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also urged sexually active Americans to consider limiting partners to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.

Cases are slowing down because of educational efforts, vaccinations and temporary behavior changes, Walensky said.

In a national survey last month, 48% of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men said they had reduced their number of sexual partners due to the virus.

“You have to use every tool in the toolkit,” said Demetre Daskalakis, deputy coordinator for the White House’s monkeypox response. “The behavior change, the vaccine, the testing, the messaging and the equity focus.”

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But a study published earlier this month has raised questions about the effectiveness of Jynneos, which is a key part of the administration’s strategy to combat the virus.

The study, which has yet to be peer reviewed, found that two vaccine doses induced relatively low levels of neutralizing antibodies against monkeypox.

“There’s a ton of questions (about the outbreak), right?” Lawler said. “The effectiveness of the vaccine is certainly one.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s collecting data to study how well the vaccine is working and will use the information for any additional guidance, like whether boosters are needed.

Related: Florida has third-highest monkeypox case count in U.S.

Who can get vaccinated?

In August, Florida bolstered its limited supply of Jynneos after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a new injection method where health care workers administer the vaccine between layers of the skin instead of into the underlying fatty tissue.

This method “has allowed us to increase the number of doses on hand fivefold,” Tom Iovino, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said in an email.

With improved availability, local health departments have expanded who’s eligible to get vaccinated. All men who have sex with men can now get the shot, according to the health departments in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Previously, only some in this population were eligible.

Close contacts of infected individuals and health care workers at high risk of exposure are still eligible.

The health departments in Hillsborough and Pasco counties added that “other high-risk groups” can also get vaccinated, though there’s no specific definition of this category and eligibility is decided on a case-by-case basis. A woman who has frequent sexual contact with a man who also has sex with men would fall into this category, according to a spokesperson.

Florida has administered almost 57,000 vaccine doses, which is the third-highest in the U.S., behind California and New York City. The state has also been third in the number of cases this year, with about 2,400 infections and no deaths.