Earlier in September, GMHC staff made their first trip to the New York Botanical Garden and other Bronx locations to tell people that the agency can help them get a monkeypox (MPV) vaccination appointment.
They handed out business cards (a bit more discreet than a flyer) with a link to GMHC’s MPV appointment assistance portal, plus its MPV Warmline number at (212) 367-1306. The cards also supply the link for GMHC’s MPV Update page, which the agency launched to provide the hard-hit NYC community with the latest information about the MPV virus right after the outbreak started in May.
The Bronx outreach effort is thanks to a significant new MPV Awareness Prevention Partnership (MAPP) grant from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is partnering with GMHC and other community-based organizations in New York City to mitigate the MPV outbreak.
GMHC’s grant award, for $200,000 over six months, allows the agency to expand access to MPV vaccinations, testing, care, and prevention resources—especially in the Black and Latinx communities most at risk.
“MPV has further shown how racial and income disparities affect access to treatment and care,” said GMHC’s Vice President, Prevention Programs, Armstrong Tingwane, who added that the same disparities arose with the HIV and COVID-19 epidemics.
The NYC Health Department has asked GMHC to concentrate its outreach in the Bronx, specifically the neighborhoods of Mott Haven, Melrose, Morrisania, Crotona, Fordham, and University Heights.
These zip codes are among the Bronx neighborhoods that collectively make up over half of New York City’s COVID-19 cases, with a high rate of other health disparities, according to the NYC Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity.
“We’re focusing on LGBTQ folks, particularly folks of color, to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine and treatment,” Tingwane said.
When the MPV outbreak started, he explained, the NYC Health Department’s appointment slots for vaccinations initially were only available online and during business hours. “If you didn’t have a computer or you couldn’t leave work, you’d miss out,” he said.
The NYC Health Department quickly moved to make MPV appointments more accessible online and by phone, and it partnered with GMHC and other community-based organizations to help their clients navigate appointments.
The response has been good when GMHC’s prevention staff reach out to clients and community members, Tingwane said. People are eager to get vaccinated, because MPV is a visible, painful disease, he said. “We’re not seeing the same kind of vaccination hesitancy as with COVID-19.”
GMHC has just started an MPV support group, “Stronger Together,” so that people affected by MPV can come together and share their experiences, resources, and ways to cope. The virtual group meets every Monday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link.)
MAPPing MPV Outreach
The MAPP grant will build on the infrastructure GMHC has already put in place for MPV outreach. It funds vaccination navigation assistance, outreach by phone and in the community, and social media engagement to mitigate the spread of MPV.
GMHC started partnering with the NYC Health Department in July for MPV vaccination outreach, screening clients and community members for eligibility and assisting with appointments through the agency’s dedicated MPV Warmline and online portal. The MAPP grant will expand that outreach to focus on the Bronx neighborhoods, Tingwane said
GMHC is working with Destination Tomorrow, the Bronx LGBTQ Center, to provide MPV vaccinations on site, and it’s talking to a community health center in the Bronx about an MPV outreach partnership, Tingwane said.
GMHC staff have been informing clients about MPV vaccination appointments as part of the 50 or more wellness calls they make every week, he added. With the MAPP grant, the agency can prioritize calls to clients in these specific Bronx neighborhoods.
Last week GMHC also started offering vaccinations by appointment at its office at 307 W. 38th Street in Manhattan. Even if it means a long subway ride, some clients prefer to make the trip to GMHC’s office for MPV vaccinations, Tingwane explained, just as they do for HIV and STI testing services.
“One reason we are doing on-site vaccinations is because some clients feel safer coming to GMHC,” he said. “Not everybody who is LGBTQ is out. Because of the stigma that might exist around MPV or being LGBTQ, some clients may not feel comfortable going to a vaccination site in their community.”
For MPV awareness outreach, GMHC staff will be making frequent visits to the Bronx neighborhoods assigned to the agency to talk to people about MPV, distribute informational cards and flyers, and help them access MPV testing and vaccinations.
The agency will hold community events around MPV awareness for the Bronx and recruit local MPV outreach ambassadors, supported by existing resources like the HIV mobile testing unit.
Meanwhile, on social media GMHC is stepping up an already robust MPV education campaign and identifying local Bronx influencers to help spread the word on social about MPV prevention.
In addition to mitigating the spread of MPV, Tingwane said, GMHC’s partnerships with the NYC Health Department for MPV vaccine navigation and now, the MAPP program, are allowing the agency to enroll new clients. “We’re reaching more folks who need our services,” he said.
While GMHC is an HIV and AIDS service agency, he said, its preventative care and support services are status-neutral, so clients include both people living with HIV and those who are HIV-negative.