Update: 4:20 p.m. Aug. 4: This story has been updated with comments from El Paso health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza.
With monkeypox cases on the rise in the United States and Texas, El Paso has received its first shipment of Jynneos, the monkeypox vaccine.
El Paso received 200 doses of the monkeypox vaccine in the last week of July, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health Services. Full vaccination requires two doses, meaning El Paso has enough doses to fully vaccinate 100 people.
Monkeypox is a viral disease similar to smallpox and transmitted most often by skin-to-skin contact. While rarely fatal, monkeypox can cause painful lesions on the face and body.
Texas Public Health Region 9/10, which includes El Paso and West Texas, has one confirmed case of monkeypox. El Paso health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza said the case was not identified in El Paso County.
Overall, the United States has recorded more than 6,300 cases of monkeypox, but scientists say there is likely an undercount because of the lack of testing.
On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency. The designation marks a more urgent shift in tone compared to what public health experts said at the beginning of the outbreak. As monkeypox cases spread nationwide, epidemiologists say the window for containing the disease is closing.
“Initially when communities don’t have any cases, we start seeing cases related to travel,” Ocaranza said. “Most important thing for now is to tell the community not to panic.”
Monkeypox vaccine in El Paso
El Paso will provide the Jynneos vaccine to people who have been exposed to someone with monkeypox, said city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta. The vaccine is not intended as universal vaccination for the population in general. After distributing the doses, El Paso will request more as needed, she added.
The vaccine is approved for people ages 18 and older, with few exceptions for younger people. When epidemiologists investigate a patient with monkeypox, they will identify all close contacts of that person. The vaccine will be offered free of charge to those close contacts, Ocaranza explained.
In Texas, cities such as Dallas, Houston and Austin are experiencing a gap between supply of monkeypox vaccine and demand. The state has distributed more than 14,000 doses and is waiting on additional doses from the federal government, according to the Texas health department.
Unlike some other diseases, Monkeypox is not an airborne disease, health experts say. Monkeypox is transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected person or animal. The virus can spread through contact with infected lesions, bodily fluids, respiratory droplets and even bed sheets.
The majority of cases so far have circulated among men who have sex with men, but monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease and anyone – regardless of age, gender or sexuality – can become ill.
The Jynneos vaccine has the best chance at preventing the disease if a person is vaccinated within four days of exposure to monkeypox. After that, vaccination may reduce symptoms but not prevent the disease entirely, according to the Texas health department.
People who think they’ve been exposed to monkeypox should go to their health care provider, who will review risk factors and determine if they need to get tested, Ocaranza said.
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes. People who develop a rash should contact their doctor as soon as possible and avoid direct contact with other people. If the case turns out to be monkeypox, the person should isolate at home until all scabs have fallen off and a new layer of skin has formed. This process can take two to four weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.