OGUNQUIT, Maine — Tim Grady had been trying to get the monkeypox vaccine for weeks at home in Manhattan. He was not able to get it until he came here on vacation.
“It’s really difficult to get an appointment down there,” Grady said. “So, it’s awesome to be able to walk into a clinic here in Ogunquit and be able to get [a shot] within half an hour.”
Grady, 35, was one of 250 people — primarily LGBTQ men most affected by the virus — to get the shot at a clinic in Ogunquit on Friday. The seaside York County town is a popular destination for the LGBTQ community, which led to it being chosen for an early walk-in clinic.
Monkeypox was named a public health emergency by President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday after a delayed response in ramping up vaccine production. It has resulted in distribution of less than a third of the doses needed in the U.S., according to a New York Times report. That was on the mind of some at the clinic on Friday.
Tanner Skilton, 30, of Portland said he was concerned about the spread of monkeypox, and while he was happy the Biden administration declared the spread in the U.S. a public health emergency on Thursday, he felt that more could have been done.
“As we’ve seen with the AIDS epidemic, people just do not pay attention to diseases that primarily affect minority groups,” Skilton said. “Right now, monkeypox is primarily affecting gay and bisexual men and people in the transgender community.”
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has begun to partner with clinics to administer a “limited allocation” of monkeypox vaccines to men who have sex with men who have either been exposed or are likely to be, Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday.
There are three reported cases in Maine so far, with one each in Aroostook, Penobscot and York counties, Shah said. He expects that more will be found here as testing increases.
Around 98 percent of cases for which data is available have occurred in men who have sex with men, according to the World Health Organization, which says that they are the primary group being affected everywhere except for parts of Africa. While monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, it is spread through close contact, which can include sex.
Many described getting the shot as a relief. They could now live their lives without worrying about contracting a disease that is often painful and can lead to lifelong scarring, they said.
Brian Dustin, 57, of Biddeford said it would allow him to enjoy his trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts, another popular tourist destination for LGBTQ people and also one that has seen a number of monkeypox cases. While he was happy he had the chance to get the shot, he said the federal rollout left a lot to be desired.
“It’s been a little slower than it ought to be,” Dustin said.
But others getting the vaccine were less critical of the Biden administration’s actions, noting that the virus had spread very rapidly and unexpectedly across the U.S. Rick Coco, 67, of Ogunquit said the federal government “jumped on it as quickly as they could.”
The vaccine rollout occurred at the Dunaway Community Center on School Street in downtown Ogunquit on a busy day in the summer destination. Many vaccine recipients walked downtown after getting the shot to socialize, go to shops and restaurants or enjoy the beach.
The clinic resembled the COVID-19 vaccination clinics that have popped up across Maine within the last two years. The coronavirus provided a “test run” for those sorts of clinics, said Kyle Holmquist, family nurse practitioner at Kennebunk-based Local Roots Health Care, which hosted the clinic.
Holmquist said he was not involved enough to comment on the federal monkeypox vaccine effort but praised Maine’s response. Preventing diseases is why he went into primary care in the first place, he said, and he was happy the state had responded quickly given few cases.
“Having large vaccination outreach with just so few cases actually happening is really quite remarkable,” Holmquist said.