As monkeypox cases plateau, Chicago suspending large-scale vaccination drives

Cook County Health hasn’t diagnosed anyone with monkeypox in four days, officials there say.

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Bottles containing of vaccine for Monkeypox lie on a table on July 28 at a Monkeypox vaccination site at TaskForce center, 9 N. Cicero Ave. in West Garfield Park.

Bottles containing of vaccine for Monkeypox lie on a table on July 28 at a Monkeypox vaccination site at TaskForce center, 9 N. Cicero Ave. in West Garfield Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago’s top public health official Tuesday urged eligible residents who haven’t yet received the monkeypox vaccine to do so this week before the city pivots its mass vaccination sites at city colleges back to COVID-19 after Labor Day.

“We would love to get a lot of folks vaccinated [for monkeypox] this weekend because we’re going to need to turn especially some of these larger clinics to help meet presumed demand for the updated COVID vaccine,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, who herself is recovering from a recent case of COVID.

The shift in focus comes as monkeypox cases have plateaued in the Chicago area in recent weeks. At Cook County Health, the region’s largest safety-net health care provider, there have been no new monkeypox cases since last Friday, system officials said Tuesday afternoon.

Delivering a message that sounded decidedly different from just a few weeks prior, Arwady said in a Facebook Live event there are plenty of appointments available for the two-dose monkeypox vaccine, which is now being offered to all sexually active men who have sex with men. In addition to the city-run sites, the vaccine is being administered by health care providers across the city.

People who got their first shot more than 28 days ago are now encouraged to get the second dose in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There have been 850 cases in the city since the outbreak began in June. After peaking at the end of July, cases have steadily declined throughout August. So far, there have been 39 new cases reported from last week, according to city data.

After recently expressing cautious optimism, Arwady was more resolute on Tuesday: “We are clearly seeing a plateau and then some decrease in new cases.”

“We’re certainly continuing to see things trend in the right direction,” she said, adding that it does not mean monkeypox is over. “It means we need to keep testing where folks have symptoms and keep vaccinating, but it is a good sign.”

Dr. Sharon Welbel, who has been leading Cook County Health’s monkeypox response, said she feels confident cases truly are decreasing since the local trends in the Chicago region are mirroring national and international trends. Last week, the World Health Organization reported a 21% drop in monkeypox cases globally.

At Cook County Health, it’s now been four days without a new case of monkeypox, “whereas last week we had new cases every day,” Welbel said, adding that she believes the significant slowing of the outbreak is because of factors like education, vaccines and changes in behavior among those in the LGBTQ community, who have been most at risk.

Welbel also said more research is needed on how much protection the Jynneos vaccine provides people from monkeypox.

“We need to continue to collect this information and make sure people understand that they still have to be cautious,” she said.

The city will host monkeypox vaccine clinics from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday at Truman College and Malcolm X College. Appointments are required.

Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ.

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