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Unalaska awaits first doses of monkeypox vaccine

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Laura Kraegel/KUCB
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The clinic is expecting 10 doses of the monkeypox vaccine to arrive this week. That’s enough vaccine for 10 people in Unalaska to receive an initial dose, if necessary.

Unalaska’s clinic is expecting its first doses of the monkeypox vaccine this week.

The White House declared monkeypox a public health emergency last month. The disease spread rapidly after it was first detected in the U.S. this spring.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 21,000 cases in the nation as of Thursday. Only three have been reported in Alaska.

People in Anchorage have had access to the monkeypox vaccine since early August. Rural communities like Unalaska are now beginning to receive doses as well.

Dr. Melissa Liner is a physician from Anchorage. She’s been working at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services as a visiting resident physician for the last couple weeks.

She said the clinic is expecting 10 doses soon. That’s enough vaccine for 10 people in Unalaska to receive an initial dose, if necessary.

“It's a two-dose live vaccine,” Liner told KUCB’s Vic Fisher in an interview Tuesday morning. “It's the vaccinia virus. This has been used to treat smallpox, [and] we're using it to treat monkeypox, which is a similar virus.”

While the monkeypox and smallpox viruses are similar, monkeypox symptoms are milder — they include rashes, fever and muscle aches. Although it’s contagious through skin-to-skin contact, the disease is rarely fatal.

“The monkeypox lesion usually starts to form as just a red spot, which progresses into what kind of looks like a blister,” Liner explained. “And then that becomes what we call a pustule, which looks like it's filled with little bits of pus. That stays around for about five to seven days. And all of the virus particles are contained in that little pustule. So if that gets in contact with somebody else, and spreads that virus, then you start to have another outbreak in a different person.”

According to Liner, 10 people could be vaccinated with the doses expected to arrive on the island soon. Patients will receive a second course about 28 days after the first.

Liner said anyone with a known exposure and people who could be at an increased risk of exposure to the virus can be vaccinated.

The criteria for that is if you've had two or more sexual partners, and at least one anonymous sexual partner in the past six months, and you identify as gay, bisexual, or other men or transgender people who have sex with men or transgender people — so that encompasses a large group of people,” she said.

Iliuliuk Family and Health Services also plans to host a vaccine clinic for the updated COVID-19 boosters next Friday. The bivalent vaccine — which targets two versions of the virus that causes COVID: the original strain and the omicron variant — is expected to arrive next week, according to IFHS Medical Director Dr. Megan Sarnecki.

More information on monkeypox is available at the Alaska Department of Health website.

To talk to someone locally about getting a monkeypox vaccine or COVID-19 booster contact the IFHS clinic.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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