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MADISON – The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced Tuesday that it is expanding the eligibility criteria for who can get vaccinated to protect themselves against the monkeypox virus.

“Expanding who is eligible to get vaccinated against monkeypox is a critical step in preventing further spread of disease,” DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said in a news release. “It is encouraging to see that the rate of new monkeypox infections is slowing, and this decision allows for even more Wisconsinites to protect themselves against monkeypox. DHS strongly encourages anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to do so.”

Monkeypox is a potentially serious disease that is caused by the orthopoxvirus, a virus from the same family of viruses as smallpox. DHS reports that the monkeypox vaccine is safe and effective at preventing illness and is available at 58 sites throughout Wisconsin, including the City of Racine and Kenosha County.

  • The City of Racine Public Health Department, 730 Washington Ave., has a limited amount of JYNNEOS Monkeypox Vaccine available for eligible city residents. Residents who are eligible and would like to receive the vaccine are asked to call 262-636-9431.
  • The Kenosha County Division of Public Health, 8600 Sheridan Rd, Suite 600, now has the monkeypox vaccine available for eligible residents. For more information, call 262-605-6700 or schedule online at the Kenosha County Health Department website.

To be eligible for the vaccine, individuals must meet at least one of the current eligibility criteria:

  • Known contacts who are identified by public health via case investigation, contact tracing, and risk exposure assessments.
  • Presumed contacts who may meet these criteria:
    • People who know that a sexual partner in the past 14 days was diagnosed with monkeypox.
    • People who attended an event or venue where there was known monkeypox exposure.
    • Gay men, bisexual men, trans men and women, any men who have sex with men, and gender non-conforming/non-binary individuals, who have had multiple sexual partners in the last 14 days.

Who has an elevated risk for monkeypox

The DHS this week also identified these individuals of being at having an elevated risk of monkeypox exposure in the future:

  • Gay men, bisexual men, trans men and women, any men who have sex with men, and gender non-conforming/non-binary people who expect to have multiple or anonymous sex partners. This may include people living with HIV and people who take HIV pre-exposure because of increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.
  • Clinical laboratory personnel who perform testing to diagnose orthopoxviruses, including those who use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays for diagnosis of orthopoxviruses, including monkeypox virus.
  • Research laboratory workers who directly handle cultures or animals contaminated or infected with orthopoxviruses that infect humans, including monkeypox virus, replication-competent vaccinia virus, or recombinant vaccinia viruses derived from replication-competent vaccinia virus strains.
  • Certain health care providers working in sexual health clinics or other specialty settings directly caring for patients with sexually transmitted infections.

DHS data shows that monkeypox is having a disproportionate impact on communities of color in Wisconsin. The data indicates communities of color account for more than half of all monkeypox cases, with nearly 42% of cases occurring in Black Wisconsinites. While more than 50% of Wisconsin cases have occurred in communities of color, only 22% of vaccine doses have been administered to Wisconsinites who reported their race as being non-White.

As of Tuesday, 63 cases of monkeypox/orthopoxvirus have been identified in Wisconsin compared with 19,962 cases reported nationally (as of Sept. 2).

The DHS reports that nearly 98% of Wisconsin cases have occurred in men. Most cases self-reported having sexual contact with other men. Anyone who develops a new or unexplained rash should contact a doctor or other health care provider immediately. In addition to eligible people getting vaccinated, everyone should avoid having close skin-to-skin contact with others who have a new or unexplained rash. For those without a provider, help is available by dialing 211 or 877-947-2211, or texting your ZIP code to 898-211.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...