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Nearly half of Ohio's monkeypox cases are in Cuyahoga County. Why are vaccinations lagging?

Monkeypox vaccines are becoming more available in Northeast Ohio as health systems and community organizations have announced pop-up clinics to vaccinate those most at-risk of infection.
Arif biswas
The gay communities in Cleveland and Columbus are very different, public health officials said. That means that fewer people in Cuyahoga County have been vaccinated despite leading the state in number of infections.

About half of all Ohio's monkeypox cases have occurred in Cuyahoga County, state data show. But nearly 2,000 more people have been vaccinated in Franklin County than Cuyahoga, an area with far fewer cases.

That's because the gay communities around Cleveland and Columbus are very different said Cleveland's Director of Public Health Dr. David Margolius.

"The demographics in Columbus, they've got a large, white, affluent gay population," he said. "When they roll out the vaccination programs, they’re kind of getting folks signed up right away, whereas we've been more focused on finding other underserved populations."

In Cleveland, that means reaching Black men who have sex with other men, who can be more difficult to reach than their white peers, he said.

There have been 285 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Ohio — about half of those in Cuyahoga County, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) posted on Oct. 6.

Although Cuyahoga County has had more infections (142) than Franklin County (47), far more people in the Central Ohio county were vaccinated against the disease, ODH data shows. A total of 4,050 people were vaccinated in Franklin County as of the first week of October compared to 2,231 in Cuyahoga County.

Nationwide, Black people are more likely than their white counterparts to be infected with monkeypox, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysisof Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Monkeypox case rates among Black people (14.4 per 100,000) are more than five times those of white people (2.6 per 100,000), according to Kaiser.

Black people make up 35% of monkeypox cases but only 13% of those who have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, according to the analysis. By contrast, white people represent 30% of monkeypox cases but 52% of vaccinations.

Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.
Tyisha is a reporter/producer for Ideastream Public Media’s health team.