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As monkeypox reaches Vermont, some residents head to Canada for vaccine

Man holds sign that reads 'monkeypox vaccine access now.'
Haven Daley/AP
Vermont confirmed its first case of monkeypox July 29.

Vermont has its first confirmed case of monkeypox.

The Health Department announced Friday afternoon that an adult in Franklin County has tested positive. The person is receiving care, and the department said the risk of community transmission associated with the case is “very low.”

Monkeypox, which is related to the smallpox and cowpox viruses, is most often transmitted through close, often skin-to-skin contact or potentially through contaminated objects like clothing or towels.

Most people recover without requiring treatment.

To date, there have been more than 4,900 cases of monkeypox identified in 47 states.

The World Health Organization says 99% of cases in the United States are among men who reported sexual contact with other men, though health officials stress that anyone can catch the virus.

The WHO last weekend declared monkeypox a public health emergency.

Limited vaccine availability

While there is a vaccine against monkeypox, federal health officials have come under fire due to limited supply.

Vermont has received 86 doses of vaccine out of 426 allocated to the state by the federal government.

According to the Health Department, at this time, vaccines are only available for health care workers and people who have been exposed to a confirmed case.

State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said she hopes to announce another shipment in coming days, and officials are discussing how to offer the vaccine to people with possible exposure, or who just want the shot as a pre-emptive measure.

"We would love to have enough to be able to give it to anyone who wants it who may be at risk,” Kelso said. “That’s not a strategy any state can accommodate right now because there isn’t enough vaccine to go around."

Seeking shots in Canada

Some Vermonters aren’t waiting for the state to get more vaccines and are instead traveling across the border to get vaccinated.

In Quebec, the vaccine is available for anyone in a high-risk group, which includes men who have sex with other men.

Richard Elliott, who is a health and wellness coordinator with the Pride Center of Vermont, said he’s been hearing from queer men who've visited Montreal for the vaccine.

"I've connected and touched base with some of them and they said the experience was lovely; the experience was fine,” he said. “It was really low barrier to get in and get out. There was no special paperwork that had to be done for non-Canadian citizens.”

Jere Conner recently got vaccinated in Montreal. Conner, an IT consultant who lives in Williston, said he made the trip with a couple friends earlier this month.

He said it was a painless process, similar to getting vaccinated against COVID. He recommends the trip north to other high-risk people worried about catching monkeypox.

"In talking to some friends who are also in the same group and in the medical profession, they reinforced that decision for me and others who went that afternoon,” he said.

 A graphic of six circles, each with a human shape inside. Above the circles in red print, the words, "Monkeypox virus symptoms." Underneath the circles, the words, "high fever, intense headache, chills, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, rash." Also, the words, "Illness lasts for 2-4 weeks."
The CDC recommends testing and isolating at the first signs of these symptoms. Doctors in Vermont have been instructed to begin testing for monkeypox if a patient exhibits these, according to Dr. Tim Lahey, infectious disease physician at UVM Medical Center.

Elliott, with the Pride Center, said he recommends those at high risk of catching the virus take additional steps to protect themselves.

"So if you have to, limit your friend group, limit interactions with new people, limit outings, limit everything,” he said. “Keep everything to a small circle, small bubble, and I'm confident that we can all get through this."

Vermonters who have been exposed to a confirmed monkeypox case can reach out to their doctor about getting vaccinated.

Vermont Public's Mark Davis contributed reporting to this story.

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