By Reid Nakamura
The goal for the Los Angeles LGBT Center is to provide “sex-positive, non-judgmental, sensitive health care” for those who need it most, said James Bell, medical director of the Center’s Sexual Health Education Program. And with that reasoning in mind, the Center has been trying to provide human monkeypox (hMPXV) vaccines to the most at-risk communities, which includes adult film actors.
On Friday, Aug. 5, Center WeHo partnered with the Performer Availability Screening Service (PASS), which works to promote health and testing in the sex work industry, to distribute nearly 70 doses of the Jynneos vaccine.
“We had a lot of requests for vaccine access,” said Ian O’Brien, executive director of PASS, about the idea for a sex worker-specific vaccine clinic. “Sex workers have an economic dimension that needs to be considered. Not only is the threat of illness significant for them, but it also puts their economic lives in jeopardy. We have a high-risk population that is vulnerable to infections and needed access to something. Fortunately, this partnership was available, and we received a huge response to it.”
Appointment slots for Friday’s clinic filled up within 24 hours of the first announcement, O’Brien said — and the list of those who still need access to a vaccine remains long.
“We’ve got a backlog of, like, several hundred folks just in L.A.,” he said. “And then there’s the rest of the country as well. There are folks all over the country that are in desperate need of access, and we don’t have the benefit of having an LGBT Center everywhere.”
Providing stigma-free services to vulnerable communities like sex workers is a top priority for the Center, even beyond this one public health emergency.
“We at the Center have many clients who work in various aspects of the adult industry, so it’s very important to us to get folks vaccinated to help reduce transmission in this community,” said Dr. Bell. “But we also want folks in the sex work industry to know that we are a safe space to come and get services, whether it’s primary care, women’s health services, behavioral health, or sexual health.”
Disclosing all information to health care providers can be intimidating and so it is important for people to feel welcome and comfortable. We need all information to be able to take the best care of a client’s needs.”
But the effort to protect sex workers and the LGBTQ community at large from hMPXV is far from over. There is only so much that can be done at the local level, now it’s the federal government’s job to step in and make vaccines more widely available.