By Reid Nakamura
As the human monkeypox (hMPXV) outbreak continues to spread in L.A. County, concerned residents at a town hall on Wednesday, July 27, called on public health officials to respond more aggressively to the crisis, demanding that more be done to protect the most vulnerable members of our community.
Hosted by the Los Angeles Blade in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and other community partners, the town hall featured a range of panelists, including representatives from the L.A. County Department of Public Health (DPH), a recently recovered hMPXV patient, LGBT community clinic representatives, and prevention advocates.
Representing the Center’s Trans Wellness Center on the panel, Mariana Marroquin highlighted the importance of including voices from underrepresented communities in the response to the current outbreak, as well as in broader conversations about public health. The transgender community, the unhoused population of Los Angeles, and non-English speaking residents must not be forgotten in the response to the crisis, Marroquin said.
“There are so many trans people out there struggling, existing, having to do sex work for a living, engaging in risky behavior because they need a place to stay. Because they need something to eat,” she said. “We need to make sure when we share information that we don’t forget about the people in our community.”
“Education and access are two important pillars of the Los Angeles LGBT Center,” she said. “I am always thinking about who is not able to go online and get an email, who is not able to receive a text message. We always need to keep in mind people who live on the streets, people who don’t have access to that kind of technology.”
Marroquin concluded by calling for a commitment from public health officials, community healthcare providers, and the LGBTQ community at large:
“I want a commitment to make sure that we always have a space in those decision-making meetings. We need those resources to take care of each other, because we know what’s going on within our community.”
L.A. County has confirmed more than 300 cases of hMPXV since the outbreak began, with the vast majority — 85 percent, according to the most recent demographic data — occurring among the LGBTQ population. Physicians estimate the total number of cases to be higher, as these are only the cases that have been reported.
Nearly a third of all cases have affected the Latino community, leading multiple attendees on Wednesday to call on public health officials to do more to include Spanish-speaking residents in their outreach efforts.
Alexandra Magallon, coordinator of policy and community engagement for The TransLatin@ Coalition, told the story of an at-risk client who sought out the Jynneos vaccine but was turned away.
“A lot of our community members that are deeply affected and impacted by this may not have access to medical or may not even have access to the very clinics that you’re working with,” she said. “What is the county doing for the Latino population, and specifically in the transgender population?”
DPH’s Dr. Leo Moore and Dr. Andrea Kim represented the county at the town hall, providing an update on the vaccine rollout and other efforts being made to slow the spread of the virus. By the end of the week, L.A. County is expected to have distributed a total of more than 24,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, with more coming from the federal government next month.
“It breaks my heart to hear that people are being turned away, but it really is a supply issue,” said Dr. Kim. She said the county could receive its next batch of doses as early as next week, allowing a greater segment of the population to get vaccinated.
“I think it’s really important for us to make sure that community clinics include the vaccine in the routine clinical care,” she said. “It’s got to be sustainable.”