Health officials in Seattle’s King County are coming under scrutiny for requiring patients to sign a document verifying their sexual history in order to prove eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine. While the vaccine is in limited supply and has been reserved for those with highest risk, the eligibility requirements have also been made more strict within the county.
According to local outlet KUOW, King County has received a little over 9,000 doses of the vaccine, which represents a fraction of the 80,000 officials have stated are necessary to treat high risk patients.
While monkeypox (which is spread through skin-to-skin contact and can be contracted by anyone) is largely impacting communities of men who have sex with men, King County has heightened restrictions on who can receive the vaccine. The restrictions that have drawn the most attention include the requirement of more than 10 sexual partners in the past three months and the usage of meth in the past month. In addition to meeting those requirements, the patient must sign their name to all of this private information in order to be considered eligible.
While the vaccine shortage and the need to triage treatment is certainly not the county’s fault, critics say that the solution is doing more harm than good. Bekah Telew, co-executive director of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Center, said, “It seems like something that would just create another barrier for folks who may identify in the eligible categories, but wouldn’t be comfortable putting that on paper.”
“It is intrusive, and it also reveals a kind of callousness with respect to the meaning of sex, the meanings that people attach to sex,” Keletso Makofane, a Harvard social network epidemiologist, added. “To act as if you can just get this information, as if these folks are robots who have no shame and no fear, who do not have a desire to keep some things private — to not accommodate that humanity that gay men have around our lives is another kind of homophobia.”
Health officials have responded that the purpose of the strict requirements is to ensure that those with privilege do not get ahead of those most at risk. “We’re trying to be a little bit more targeted in who we’re giving it to in this initial phase,” said Dr. Matthew Golden, director of the county’s sexual health clinic. “As we get more vaccine, we expect to change what those criteria will be.”
Telew and Makofane have both suggested that a better approach would be the targeted dissemination of the vaccine through community outreach, rather than restrictive policies. A spokesperson for the county told KUOW that the eligibility requirements are only one part of their strategy and that they have also employed targeted outreach, having partnered with community organizations and held popup vaccination clinics.