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The troubles that NYC has had in rolling out the monkeypox vaccine


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now logged more than 900 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. New York has more than any other state, and the vaccine rollout in New York City has been plagued with problems. From member station WNYC, Jaclyn Jeffrey-Wilensky has the story.

JACLYN JEFFREY-WILENSKY, BYLINE: You can think of monkeypox like a milder version of smallpox. It's rarely fatal but caused by a related virus, and it looks a bit like smallpox, too - fever, aches and sores on the face and body. Kevin Heard did not want any of that, and he was more than ready to sign up for his monkeypox vaccine appointment on Tuesday when new slots became available. But after just a few minutes, he started getting error messages on the website.

KEVIN HEARD: The first thing was, service is unavailable.

JEFFREY-WILENSKY: After refreshing for an hour and a half, he was finally able to get appointments for himself and his partner. But many others weren't. Within a half hour, the website had fully crashed. Cody Dean spent an hour and a half clicking through the lagging website, and he still couldn't get an appointment.

CODY DEAN: I own a technology consulting business. I have the privilege of sitting here for 90 minutes to get through every step here, and I was still unsuccessful. I seriously doubt that someone working, you know, in a retail job in another borough could do that.

JEFFREY-WILENSKY: It's just the latest in a string of issues with the vaccine rollout in New York City. The website for booking appointments crashed last week, too. And in late June, at the city's first vaccine clinic, they ran out in a couple of hours. Anyone can get monkeypox from close personal contact with an infected person, like kissing or sex. But so far, many of those affected globally are members of the LGBTQ community or other men who have sex with men. New York City is focusing on those groups for vaccine distribution. Cody Dean says that because of the tech issues, he worries only some members of his community will actually be able to book an appointment.

DEAN: They're not distributing this equitably. I guarantee you that the folks that actually got appointments will not be representative of the city of New York.

JEFFREY-WILENSKY: City health officials weren't able to make time for an interview on Wednesday. But in a statement, they said demand is extremely high, and they blame the crash on overwhelming traffic. They also said that some of the appointments have been booked directly through doctors and community organizations. In a press conference on Wednesday, City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan apologized for the technical problems.


ASHWIN VASAN: We own it. You know, those mistakes shouldn't happen. And so we're working to correct those and do better for New Yorkers in the future.

JEFFREY-WILENSKY: He said a better system is coming, but there's only so much they can do with so few doses. They've gotten about 7,000 shots for a city with an estimated 700,000 LGBTQ adults. The health department says more vaccines are on the way from the federal government, but those who want it say it's not fast enough. Adam McMahon is a political science professor at Rider University who also wasn't able to get the dose.

ADAM MCMAHON: Who wants a crotch rash? Who wants boils on their face? Like, people want to get vaccinated for this, and they're willing to do what it takes. And yet government can't solve that problem.

JEFFREY-WILENSKY: In the meantime, New Yorkers are taking extra precautions and living with the stress of yet another threat to their health. For NPR News, I'm Jaclyn Jeffrey-Wilensky in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jaclyn Jeffrey-Wilensky