New Hampshire Public Radio | By Paul Cuno-Booth
Published September 20, 2022
More people are now eligible to get the monkeypox vaccine in New Hampshire, after the state updated its eligibility guidelines.
The latest guidance, released to health care providers on Friday,allows doctors to recommend the vaccine for any patients they believe are at risk of infection. It also makes the vaccine available to any men who have sex with men and consider themselves at risk.
As before, the state continues to recommend vaccination for anyone who was recently exposed to the virus.
With plenty of vaccines on hand — and relatively few people getting shots — the state decided to expand access, said Laura Montenegro, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. She said this gives providers more flexibility to make their own call to give the vaccine to someone who might be at risk.
“We’ve heard about some situations where a person may be at risk, but didn’t fall within the previous criteria,” Montenegro said in an email Monday.
New Hampshire now has more than 5,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine available. But only 295 shots had been administered as of last Tuesday, the most recent data available from the CDC.
The new guidelines replace a narrower set of criteria, which had limited pre-exposure vaccination to certain subsets of men who have sex with men.
Scottlyn Schuler, the emerging infectious disease coordinator for the Strafford County and Seacoast public health networks, welcomed the broadened eligibility. She said the previous guidance was “too tight and stigmatizing” and that may have discouraged vaccination.
Dr. Bobby Kelly, a family medicine doctor at Core Physicians who leads its LGBTQ Health Program, said he doesn’t know how many people who wanted the vaccine were barred from getting it under the old guidance.
But he thinks opening up eligibility “will do wonders for decreasing the stigma” around a disease that, he said, many people falsely believe affects only the LGBTQ community.
“I also think that it is an excellent move to allow people to self-identify as being at risk for [monkeypox], and decoupling sex, sexual orientation and gender identity from the eligibility criteria for receiving the vaccine,” he said in an email. “Hopefully, as people assess their own risk moving forward, there will be fewer barriers in place.”
Health officials say that while monkeypox has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, anyone can get it. The virus can spread through close physical contact or contact with surfaces, objects or fabrics that an infected person has used.
The updated guidance came on the same day that the state health department announced New Hampshire’s first known pediatric case of monkeypox. In a news release Friday evening, the department said a child in Manchester became infected after a household member came down with the illness.
The release described the child’s symptoms as mild and the risk to the general school population and community as low. Contact tracing was underway to identify and vaccinate people who may have been exposed.
It’s rare for children to catch the disease, but not unheard-of. Nationwide, at least 27 cases of monkeypox have been identified among children 15 or younger, out of the more than 23,000 known cases in the country, according to the CDC.
New Hampshire makes the monkeypox vaccine available to people who live, work or have a primary care provider in the state. The vaccineis offered at 13 ConvenientMD clinics around the state, as well as Coos Family Health in Berlin, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Keady Family Practice in Claremont, White Mountain Community Health in Conway and the Manchester Health Department. The Nashua Health Department offers vaccines to uninsured and underinsured people in the greater Nashua area.