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Air Force, Space Force members at high risk for monkeypox urged to stay informed

  • Published
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

The current outbreak of monkeypox continues to spread, with more than 6,600 active cases in the United States mostly occurring among gay and bisexual men.

The White House declared on August 4 that monkeypox is a national public health emergency, and Air Force providers at military treatment facilities are ready to provide guidance on the monkeypox vaccine. If not immediately available, shipment of the approved monkeypox vaccine can be available within 24 to 48 hours.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on vaccines, even if the vaccine is given between four and 14 days of being exposed, the vaccine can still be helpful in reducing the symptoms of monkeypox,” said Lt. Col. Sonia Molchan, preventive medicine chief, Air Force Medical Readiness Agency.

If an Airman or Guardian falls within the CDC guidelines for recommended vaccination, the military treatment facility will coordinate that.

The CDC provides tiered risk assessments for exposure. High-risk category includes individuals who have been contacted by their local public health departments, have had close or intimate contact in the past 14 days with an individual with monkeypox, or have had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days in an area with known monkeypox.

Individuals at high risk also include people who may live in the same household with an infected person, share the same space or touch the same objects, and having close, intimate contact.

Moderate risk situations include exposure to respiratory droplets or attending an indoor event with an infected person where prolonged, close contact could occur.

“The most important things Airmen and Guardians need to know are what monkeypox is, what are their risks, and what to do if they are exposed,” said Lt. Col. David Sayers, Chief, Preventive Medicine, Air Force Medical Readiness Agency.

Department of the Air Force senior leaders and the department’s LGBTQ+ Initiatives Team are also urging high risk Airmen and Guardians to stay informed.

The LGBTQ+ Initiatives Team, or LIT, was established in 2021 to address issues impacting the community, especially when it comes to identifying potential barriers within existing policies and processes.

“It is critical Airmen and Guardians who fall into a high risk category have access to the care and support they need as we navigate through the current monkeypox outbreak,” said Maj. Jonathan Roman, LIT co-lead. “If you fall into the high risk category, then you really should call your health care provider and ask them about your individual risk and your access to a vaccine.”

While it is necessary that higher risk Airmen and Guardians know how to keep themselves safe, Roman also stresses the importance of dispelling misconceptions or misinformation that could get in the way of reducing the spread of monkeypox.

“Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection. We know that monkeypox can also spread by handling objects, like clothing or linens, used by someone with a known infection,” said Roman. “We urge our members to reach out to their providers to get a clear assessment of potential risk and discuss how to prevent monkeypox infection or get vaccinated.”

The World Health Organization cautioned on July 25 against complacency in the rapidly escalating monkeypox outbreak, saying there is no guarantee it will continue to spread within specific communities. However, the LIT is working to ensure members who are higher-risk have access to the necessary information, support and guidance.

“The best way to keep each other safe is to keep each other informed,” said Roman. “The LIT has this impressive communication network where members can raise issues and concerns. We have a medical-focused line of effort within the LIT, so we have members who are focused on medical issues and barriers impacting the LGBTQ+ community.”

Roman also urges Airmen and Guardians to be aware of their potential risk and how they can advocate for their needs when speaking with a provider.

“If members have any concerns about getting access to the vaccine, they should reach out their provider and their patient advocate at the military treatment facility,” said Roman. “Members can also speak with us at the LIT to get additional support and advice.”

“This is still an ongoing situation that could change at any time and recommendations may change,” said Sayers. “As medics, we will do our best to keep our members informed and do all we can to keep them safe.”

More information about the LIT and current conversations with members can be found here.

More information about monkeypox can be found here.

The Air Force Medical Service is a 44,000-person integrated health care delivery and readiness system serving 2.6 million beneficiaries at 76 military treatment facilities worldwide. AFMS leaders are committed to the health and well-being of every Airman and Guardian, and helping members navigate through the current monkeypox outbreak is no exception.