The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and community health providers are partnering to vaccinate more people for monkeypox.

Santa Barbara County has five confirmed cases, four pending tests, and has administered 35 vaccine doses to people exposed to the virus, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“We are constantly bugging the state to give us more vaccine, and I don’t want to see the vaccine doses in the freezer. I want to see them in people’s bodies.”

The county, the Pacific Pride Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and other providers are in a “coordinated and concerted effort to vaccinate as many as possible within the next 10 days,” he said.

The monkeypox virus is “much less dangerous than smallpox, but still a very uncomfortable illness if you have to go through it,” Ansorg said.

It spreads through prolonged skin to skin contact or through droplets from close face to face contact.

“It is way less contagious than COVID or smallpox for that matter,” he said. 

Click here for the Public Health Department’s monkeypox information page.

Vaccination and treatment for severe cases is available but limited, Ansorg said Tuesday.

“Vaccination is really the best protection for people” who have been exposed to someone with monkeypox, he said.

The Jynneos vaccine and tecovirimat (TPOXX) treatment come from the federal government’s stockpiles, and are not widely available, Ansorg added.

TPOXX is an “investigational use drug because it is approved for smallpox and not for MPox,” he said.

The county has received 220 doses of the vaccine for high-risk groups and post-exposure cases, and 10 courses of treatment for patients with severe illness, he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave emergency-use authorization to administer the vaccine with one-fifth doses, which would allow the county to vaccinate people on a larger scale, Ansorg said.

The county received its first shipment of 40 vaccine doses earlier this month.  

County Supervisor Joan Hartmann asked if people vaccinated for smallpox have some protection from monkeypox, and Ansorg said they do.

The United States stopped general vaccination for smallpox in 1972, 50 years ago, he said.

“So anybody who was born in let’s say the late ‘60s even has at least partial immunity against this MPox virus through their smallpox vaccination,” Ansorg said.

About 75% of the cases in the United States are in people younger than 45, he added. 

Anyone with symptoms is asked to avoid close physical contact with others and get tested.

Symptoms can include a fever; a headache; muscle aches and a backache; swollen lymph nodes; chills; exhaustion; a sore throat, nasal congestion or a cough; and a rash that can look like pimples or blisters and that appears on the face, inside the mouth, and on other parts of the body such as the hands, feet, chest, genitals or anus.

To prevent being infected, Ansorg suggested avoiding intimate contact with people who have skin lesions, limiting the number of intimate partners, and disclosing to partners that you have symptoms or skin lesions yourself.

California has reported 1,733 cases and 36 hospitalizations from monkeypox.

The Pacific Pride Foundation is hosting a virtual town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the local response to monkeypox and resources available.

The speakers include medical professionals from Public Health, Pacific Pride Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, UCSB Student Health and Cottage Health. Spanish and Mixteco language interpretation will be provided.

Register for the Zoom meeting at bit.ly/8mW4hd.

Anyone can get infected with the monkeypox virus, but many of the recent cases have been among people identifying as men who have sex with men, according to the California Department of Public Health.

It is important to avoid stigma when talking about the virus and the LGBTQ+ community, and to focus outreach and resources on at-risk groups, health officials say. 

Click here for monkeypox information and resources from the Pacific Pride Foundation. 

Scroll down to read the Public Health presentation about monkeypox at Tuesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting. 

Monkeypox Response Update for Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.