By Aleksandra Sidorova
Clinton County Health Department and the Student Health and Counseling Center collaborated to bring a targeted monkeypox vaccine initiative to campus Friday, Sept. 30. Twenty-five people, students and civilians alike, received their first dose of the JYNNEOS vaccine that day.
The CCHD and SHCC saw enough interest in a monkeypox vaccine among SUNY Plattsburgh students to host a clinic. Susan Sand, assistant director for medical services, sent a survey to the SUNY Plattsburgh student population Sept. 9. No Plattsburgh residents were surveyed for interest in the vaccine, Supervising Public Health Nurse Nichole Louis said. However, civilians were notified of the clinic through press releases, radio announcements and social media.
The clinic occupied half of Memorial Hall’s basketball court, divided by a large white screen. The tables used to administer vaccines were separated by smaller white screens with wheels. These privacy measures were implemented at SHCC’s request because the vaccine’s eligibility requirements can reveal sensitive information about people who receive it, Louis said.
The vaccine was available to those who may have been exposed to monkeypox or are at greater risk of being exposed to monkeypox. This includes being in close contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox, having multiple sexual partners or having sex at events or commercial sex venues in the past two weeks as a man or transgender or nonbinary person. People whose sexual partners identify with these scenarios or anticipate “experiencing any of the above scenarios” are also eligible for the vaccine.
People who have experienced a “severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of JYNNEOS” should not get the JYNNEOS monkeypox vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state. The CDC also suggests people discuss getting the vaccine with their healthcare provider if they are allergic to “the antibiotics gentamicin or ciprofloxacin, or chicken or egg protein.” It is also not recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccine within four weeks of receiving the JYNNEOS vaccine.
Parker Leclair, a junior majoring in geology, is one of the people who received their vaccine. Leclair said the shot felt different from a COVID vaccine: his forearm hurt after the vaccine was administered, and the fluid felt like it sat under his skin in “a little pocket.”
“I’m glad I did it,” Leclair said. “I hate needles, but it’s worth it.”
Leclair said he got the vaccine because he “would rather not have to be as concerned” about monkeypox, as the COVID pandemic gave him a lot of anxiety. While he encouraged his peers to get the vaccine, Leclair said the decision is a personal one.
“I would say it’s a personal decision, based on previous reactions to vaccines, but if it’s a concern, I think it’s worth it,” Leclair said.
Another vaccine recipient, an elderly man who requested his name not be used, said the vaccine did not hurt. On his decision to get the vaccine, he said, “I have sex with men.”
The man said he was not afraid of neither the vaccine nor the disease.
“I’m 80,” he explained, shrugging.
Computer science sophomores Justin Kumrow and Ulises Ortega-Morales said they are not interested in receiving a monkeypox vaccine in the case they are eligible.
Ortega-Morales said he took four shots of the COVID vaccine and still caught it, suffering intense cough and nausea.
“I go for flu shots. I’m not anti-vax,” Ortega-Morales said. “But still I’m not interested. If I get [monkeypox], I get it.”
Ortega-Morales also said he is “focused on studying” and believes he is unlikely to contract monkeypox “considering my looks.”
Kumrow shared Ortega-Morales’ sentiment, simply saying, “It’s sexually-transmitted.”
However, the assumption that monkeypox is a sexually-transmitted disease is false. Dr. Deirdre Schaefer, a physician at the SHCC, said:
“Children can get it, adults can get it — I want to make that clear. We do not want a stigma attached to monkeypox. Anyone can get it.”
Schaefer said that although monkeypox is “sexually transmissible,” it can spread through any kind of physical contact, whether holding hands or lying in a monkeypox patient’s bedsheets. Schaefer also said the potential stigma of monkeypox has not affected people’s willingness to get the vaccine, as high rates of monkeypox vaccinations in New York City suggest.
Although Clinton County has seen zero reported monkeypox cases so far, Schaefer believes in the importance of preventative action before an outbreak emerges. The CDC have not yet released data on the JYNNEOS vaccine’s effectiveness, but based on the success of the vaccine for smallpox, a disease similar to monkeypox, Schaefer believes a vaccine can offer “excellent protection” against monkeypox.
“If you have a vaccine for an illness that is potentially preventable by using the vaccine, I’m all for it,” Schaefer said. “Vaccinations work when you’re proactive.”