Leigh Woods, a sex worker based in Pittsburgh, told me that on Monday, she called the Allegheny County clinic that she regularly visits for routine STI testing to ask for a vaccine appointment. She’d read that the health department was administering vaccines on a “case-by-case basis,” and had seen other sex workers tweeting about getting the vaccine in cities like D.C. and Boston. But when she called the clinic, the provider who answered the phone was flippant and dismissive, she said. “As a sex worker, I am more than familiar with the negative stigma surrounding sex work in our society and the common biases held against us,” she said. “At this point, I was angry.” It was only after repeatedly explaining her situation and asking about traveling to other cities—where some clinics have been more inclusive of sex workers getting vaccinated—that she was able to get through. “In less than a minute, she returned to let me know that the providers approved my eligibility to receive the monkeypox vaccine, and she transferred me back to the front desk to be scheduled for my first dose,” Woods said. In New York City, Zil Goldstein, nurse practitioner and Associate Medical Director for Transgender and Gender Nonbinary (TGNB) Health at Callen-Lorde, told me that she’s sending her patients to the city’s department of health locations for vaccines with mixed success. “I had someone who was turned away yesterday. I've had people who have gotten the vaccine already,” she said. “Nothing about the way this country handles pandemics makes sense.”
“Nothing about the way this country handles pandemics makes sense”
Making the entire process more confusing, each state—and sometimes, individual counties within a single state—have different criteria for who is and isn’t eligible for a vaccine. In Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, for example, sex workers of any sexual orientation or gender are specifically named as among those eligible for a vaccine. Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health will allow a vaccine for anyone who has had multiple sex partners in the last two weeks or engaged in “survival and/or transactional sex,” but limits recipients to gay or bi men and trans individuals only. Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties’ are similar, allowing for transactional sex but only if you’re male or trans. In Miami, Florida, where cases are spiking, the criteria is extremely limited: only lab workers and men who have sex with men who are also immunocompromised or have a history of STDs can get the vaccine. In Southern Nevada and Las Vegas, where monkeypox has been detected in the wastewater, eligibility is limited to people who may have been exposed and “gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men, and/or transgender, gender non-conforming, or gender non-binary who had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days,” but even people who fit that criteria are reportedly being turned away.
“If the government doesn't start helping us protect ourselves, it isn't only failing us, it's failing you, too. And it won’t be our fault”