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Missouri changes monkeypox vaccine screening to encourage more applicants

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health clinics can now assure Missouri officials that only eligible patients are getting the monkeypox vaccine. People previously needed to fill out individual online screening forms.

After weeks of requiring people to submit online eligibility forms to receive the monkeypox vaccine, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is now letting clinics determine eligibility for the shots.

State health officials said they changed the requirement after local officials told them some peoplemay be avoiding be avoiding the vaccine because they didn’t want to fill out the form, which asked respondents questions about their sexual identities and whether they had engaged in commercial or group sex.

“If we’re creating a barrier that doesn’t need to exist, that’s obvious for us to change the process,” department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said. “We were hearing those concerns. It was keeping people who should be vaccinated who are at high risk from seeking vaccination.”

The supply of monkeypox vaccine is limited, so the federal government has restricted who can get it to those who have been exposed to the virus or who are at high risk of contracting it.

Monkeypox is spread through close contact with infected people. It can spread through skin-to-skin contact with the virus’ trademark lesions, exposure to respiratory secretions and sharing towels or other objects. People can become infected during sex, dancing and other situations where people are close together.

People who haven’t been exposed but who still want the vaccine have applied by filling out an online form through the state health department. The survey asks questions about people’s sexual identity and whether they have engaged in group or commercial sex.

State health officials this week changed the eligibility screening process after hearing concerns from St. Louis and St. Louis County health workers, Cox said.

The state now allows clinics to sign a blanket form to confirm to the state they’re making sure patients are eligible for the vaccine. That keeps vaccine seekers from having to fill and sign individual personalized screening surveys.

“Because it’s our responsibility at DHSS to ensure that people in Missouri are using the vaccine supply — because it is limited — based on CDC criteria, we’re passing that responsibility to these clinics,” Cox said.

Health workers and LGBTQ advocates say the change will streamline the process and allow clinics to vaccinate more people. Local health departments and clinics plan to make vaccines available at Tower Grove Pride events this weekend.

Dr. Sam Tochtrop of Southampton Healthcare in St. Louis said he appreciated how the state had worked with local groups to get the vaccine to people who need it.

Letting the clinic confirm eligibility also made more logistical sense, he said.

“I think that frees us up from one more layer of work that both we and the patients need to do in order to get their shots,” Tochtrop said. “At the end of the day, sometimes the things that get in the way the most are general workflow. This will take away a task without removing the information that we collect.”

Southampton will set up a booth where clinic workers will give out vaccine to eligible people at Tower Grove Pride this weekend, he said. Meeting people in the community will enable workers to reach those they may not find by using their website or social media.

“We can be out here with our booth and with our signs. You literally only need to take 10 steps to get your shot, as opposed to going online for a form, waiting for a call,” Tochtrop said. “It’s a lot fewer steps, which is what we want.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.