Essex County is offering monkeypox vaccinations to eligible residents, who can schedule appointments beginning on Wednesday, Aug. 24. 

During a virtual monkeypox (hMPXV) informational session on Tuesday, Aug. 23, County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo announced that Essex County has 375 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine, the approved vaccine for the prevention of monkeypox. This afternoon, beginning at 4 p.m, eligible residents can schedule an appointment online to receive their first dose. On Thursday, Aug. 25, residents can call (973)-877-8456 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to schedule an appointment. 

“In the state of New Jersey, there's over 440 cases I believe,” DiVincenzo said. “Here in Essex County, we have 80 cases. We’re the second highest in the state of New Jersey, so it’s something that we have to deal with up front, and we're going to do it the same way we did with COVID.”

The county has only one date set for the first dose of the monkeypox vaccine, which is Monday, Aug. 29. Those who qualify to make an appointment through the county will receive the first dose at the Sears in the Livingston Mall, the same location where COVID-19 vaccinations are administered on different days. 

Because the state has a limited supply of JYNNEOS vaccines, and because the risk of severe illness or death from monkeypox is extremely low, there are specific qualifications to receive the vaccine.

In July, New Jersey expanded the eligibility requirements for the monkeypox vaccine. Previously, the vaccine was available only to residents with known exposure to a monkeypox case. Now, the vaccine is available to individuals who attended an event where a known monkeypox exposure occurred, individuals that identify as gay, bisexual or MSM (men who have sex with men) and/or transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary and who have had multiple or anonymous sex partners within the past 14 days. If the initial criteria are met, individuals with underlying comorbidities that increase their risk for severe illness are given priority. 

Although monkeypox is disproportionately affecting those who identify as men in the LGBTQ+ community, the illness still poses a threat to all.

“The interesting thing about viruses – and we all know this from COVID – is that viruses don't discriminate,” Kathy Ahearn-O'Brien, executive director at Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, said at Tuesday’s information session.  “Flat out, they do not discriminate. A virus is simply going to look for an opportunity to be transplanted to another person, regardless of what that opportunity is. So when we are looking at monkeypox, we really have to look to make sure that we are not stigmatizing the community.” 

She continued: “The bottom line is, it's a virus, and viruses, they're flexible. Again, we've seen it through HIV, we've seen it through COVID. They change, they mutate, they're sneaky little fellas and they're gonna get where they want to go.” 

A majority of the county’s virtual information session emphasized identifying the symptoms of monkeypox and learning to assess one’s own risk in contracting the sickness. 

Fewer than five people in the world have died in this outbreak, said Dr. David Cennimo, associate program director of the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Residency Program at Rutgers University and East Orange Veterans Hospital Site Director. He explained that the current outbreak may be less severe than the original virus. 

Dr. Cennimo presented several case studies analyzing the physical attributes associated with the current outbreak. In one study, the majority of patients had fewer than 10 skin lesions. In another study, 1 in 10 patients had a single lesion on the body. He used these examples to express how difficult it may be for an individual to spot the sickness on the body.  

“I'm telling all my patients to be meticulous in monitoring themselves and looking for any rashes, anything that they think of abnormal, but I'm also recognizing that being able to say that you can identify this infection might not be the way out of this,” Dr. Cennimo said. “We can't depend on everyone knowing that they're infected and isolating to prevent the chain of transmission.” 

Because vaccines are limited, Essex County residents should assess their own lives and risks when deciding whether or not they should seek vaccinations, officials said. 

“It's all gonna come down to everybody has to assess their own personal risk, and understanding what is right for them,” Ahearn-O'Brien said. “If we really want to contain this, we've got to vaccinate people. Without vaccines, it's going to come down to personal decision making and assessing your own personal risk.”