SF could face another public health crisis, lawmaker warns

ByRachelle R. Sowell

Jul 15, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Bay Area lawmaker is warning that San Francisco is “veering toward a public health mess” over monkeypox, citing a Wednesday announcement from the San Francisco Department of Public Health that said the agency is running low on monkeypox vaccines and will shutter its clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital until more supply arrives. 

State Rep. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said the timing of the vaccine shortage is especially troubling given the disease’s growing prevalence in the area. 

“This exhaustion of existing vaccine supply is happening exactly as San Francisco and other communities continue to see an increase in monkeypox infections and exposures,” he said in a statement. “More vaccine doses will be sent to San Francisco shortly, but the amount will still be quite limited.”

A news release from the San Francisco Department of Public Health said the vaccine clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital has 50 remaining doses it will administer Wednesday on a first come, first served basis. Afterward, it will close until the next batch of doses arrive. The release said other community clinics — such as the San Francisco City Clinic and the Adult Immunization and Travel Clinic — will continue to administer remaining doses but also expect to run out of supply sometime this week. 

A Tuesday report from KTVU said the line outside of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital stretched down the block as dozens of residents waited to receive a vaccine before supplies run out. Some interviewed by KTVU said they’d waited as long as two hours to be inoculated. 

California has the second-highest number of confirmed monkeypox cases in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC map shows that California has 150 confirmed cases — just behind New York, with 158 — but doesn’t specify where in-state outbreaks are most prevalent. However, the San Francisco Department of Public Health said the community has seen 68 confirmed cases so far.   

In his statement, Wiener said the federal government is to blame for the vaccine shortage. He said public health experts warned back in 2010 that monkeypox would inevitably spread beyond West Africa — where the disease is most common — and said the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for use in 2019. 

“Yet, the United States government ordered a mere 56,000 vaccine doses (enough for 28,000 people) for the national vaccine stockpile and failed to order the millions of doses that should have been ordered in preparation for an inevitable outbreak,” he said. 

The San Francisco Department of Public Health release said officials “urgently” ordered 35,000 new doses this week but didn’t specify when it expects to receive the entirety, or a portion, of that order.

Monkeypox is a rare but potentially serious disease that’s typically characterized by a new, unexplained rash and skin lesions. Other early symptoms include fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes. The CDC says the disease is rarely fatal, but warns that children under 8, people with weakened immune systems and people with a history of eczema are especially susceptible to becoming seriously ill.  

“We need an enormous amount of additional vaccine doses, and we need them immediately,” Wiener said in his statement. “The federal government’s failures are threatening to deeply harm our community. Once we move past this emergency, we need accountability for these failures — failures that put people’s lives and health in jeopardy.”