Wednesday, February 21, 2024

New Hanover County one of seven vaccine receivers in state’s new monkeypox response plan

The vaccine must be administered within 14 days of exposure to the virus for it to  prevent and reduce the severity of monkeypox. (Courtesy World Health Organization)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is distributing monkeypox vaccines to seven counties, including New Hanover,  as it gears up to curb the state’s monkeypox cases. 

In a Thursday announcement, the department detailed its response plan for the monkeypox virus, a disease that develops into a rash spread by close physical contact. The first North Carolina case was reported on June 23, although there are no current cases in New Hanover County. 

Early symptoms of monkeypox include fever, exhaustion and headache and sometimes a sore throat and cough. A rash resembling pimples or blisters may occur in the following two or three weeks. 

The response plan outlines how to avoid contracting monkeypox as well as steps to take if symptoms occur. The state also provided information on the actions it’s taking to support local responses, including distribution of the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine to county health departments across the state.

“Releasing this plan helps all North Carolinians, including caregivers across our health system and individuals, to be on the same page about what they can do to control the spread of monkeypox,” NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said in the press release.

The vaccine must be administered within 14 days of exposure to the virus for it to  prevent and reduce the severity of monkeypox. Two shots are required, with the second dose coming a month after the first dose.

The federal government approved more vaccines on June 28 following increasing cases across the country. North Carolina received the vaccines a week later and launched Phase 1 of the response plan, according to plan details. 

New Hanover County received a batch of vaccines along with Buncombe, Durham, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Pitt and Wake counties in the department’s first phase. The department started contact-tracing and administering vaccines to those exposed to the virus with higher health risks. 

According to the announcement, a second allocation of JYNNEOS vaccines was made available in mid-July and will include enough vaccines for about 960 people statewide. Phase 2A vaccines will be prioritized to those that received a first dose along with higher-risk individuals, certain laboratory, healthcare, and public health response personnel. 

The same seven departments will receive a second batch of vaccines during Phase 2A. 

The plan states: 

“These health departments will share vaccines with other local health departments as needed and with major providers of HIV treatment and services to bring vaccines closer to more state residents.” 

It goes on to add that more doses should be available by the end of summer. 

While vaccine supply is limited only to those exposed within the last 14 days, the plan assures the State Lab and private labs have ample supplies to test for monkeypox. 

Anyone can contract monkeypox. Most of the cases in the current outbreak are in men who have sex with men and transgender individuals. Close skin-to-skin contact, including sex can spread the virus, along with infected saliva, respiratory droplets or fluid from active skin lesions. Many cases can resolve on their own, but severe cases can occur. 

People that have been exposed to infected individuals are encouraged to get tested at their local health department or health care provider, where there is no shortage of tests according to the NCDHHS. Plan guidance says keep the rash covered and avoid sex or being intimate with anyone until you have been seen by a health care provider. 

New Hanover County residents can call the Pandemic Operations Call Center at 910-798-6800 to discuss treatment options.

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