DC to release monkeypox data online after criticism from board members
Anil T. Mangla, DC Health’s state epidemiologist, said the dashboard had been “in the works for some time” but he wanted to wait until he was sure the data was “clean and accurate.” before publishing them. It will include demographic data, including age, gender, race and ethnicity, as well as the neighborhood of residence of those who test positive and those who receive doses, he said.
The lawmakers’ request, detailed in a letter signed Monday by eight of the 13 board members, comes at a time of great transition for the agency: Longtime health director LaQuandra Nesbitt resigned last month and the Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) was nominated. Sharon Lewis, previously the department’s senior deputy director, will lead the search for a permanent replacement.
But as monkeypox infections surge in the region, the board — which has at times clashed with DC Health during the coronavirus pandemic over vaccine fairness and public information — asked Lewis to reinforce the department’s messaging for residents who are not among the most-at-risk populations. This includes some parents of young children – to whom lawmakers have written: ‘do not feel they have enough information to know what their own risk is or how to protect themselves and their family members’.
The letter urged Lewis to work with public schools on messaging around safety and provide lawmakers with details on vaccine distribution, mirroring data the department shared publicly during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Board members also asked how DC Health conveys information about monkeypox to residents who do not use social media, a primary communication tool for the department.
How to Get a Monkeypox Vaccine in the DC Area
“There’s a desire for more information, there’s a concern about the spread, a concern about the equitable distribution of the vaccine,” said Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who has directed the effort. “This letter was really about building a relationship with new management to say to communicate well with our residents… and to make sure we learn from covid, where equitable distribution of the vaccine was a big issue.”
DC Health’s messages about monkeypox were initially aimed at groups widely recognized as most at risk: gay and bisexual men who had recently had multiple sexual partners. Last week, the agency expanded eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine to people of any sexual orientation or gender who have had multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks – in part to reduce the stigma surrounding the virus that could have discourage some residents from getting vaccinated.
But with the city’s public schools reopening at the end of the month, Silverman and other lawmakers say they’re hearing more and more parents seek information about how monkeypox is transmitted and how whose virus could spread between children who play and interact with touches.
The district continues to have more monkeypox cases per capita than any state, with 341 as of Sunday, but Mangla noted only one case occurred in a minor. The median age is 34, he said. He added that 98% of cases in the district were transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or kissing with respiratory secretions; without contact with the lesions, he said, the possibility of transmission is low. As with the coronavirus, the practice of hand washing and good hygiene are essential, he said.
But aware of parents’ concerns, Mangla said he meets weekly with school district leaders and the health department will issue an FAQ to schools after ensuring it does not conflict with guidance. back to school they expect from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I want to make sure they have the right information rather than misinformation,” he said.
Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) last week said she asked DC Health for a breakdown of monkeypox cases by race, gender and neighborhood, and lobbied for the information to be released. and regularly updated online. As of Tuesday, DC’s monkeypox website redirects users to a CDC map of the country that only shows the raw number of cases in the district.
Earlier this week I asked @_DCHealth for monkeypox surveillance data disaggregated by a number of factors. The answer is below.
I have also requested that this information be posted on the website and updated on a regular basis. pic.twitter.com/WxQRKXHUvG
—Christina Henderson (@chenderson) August 12, 2022
Henderson, who said she didn’t sign Silverman’s letter because it duplicated her own request, said her request was fueled by the fact that other jurisdictions, like Virginia and New York City, had previously published detailed monkeypox surveillance data.
“I realized I didn’t know what was going on in DC beyond a specific case count,” Henderson said. “That shouldn’t be a question…there are a lot of scars on how information was or was not passed on at the start of the pandemic.”
Mangla said DC has made progress in vaccinating black residents at its Friday walk-in clinics, which do not require pre-registration, and starting August 19 there will also be no need for names. or date of birth.
Nearly 50% of monkeypox cases in the city occur in white men, compared to 36% in black men, he said. Of those who pre-registered for a vaccination through the city’s website, 21% are black, but that number rose to 54% for walk-in clinics, Mangla said.
Additionally, the city has reserved 35% of its doses for black residents and 20% for immunocompromised people, including those who are HIV-positive. “It was about assessing and addressing some of the equity issues that we were seeing in cases and in vaccination clinics,” he said.
Reporting of public data is inconsistent across the DC region. Although Maryland does not publish monkeypox data online, the Virginia Department of Health maintains a dashboard, which is updated daily, with case counts as well as outbreak data. by region, gender, age group, race and ethnicity.
On Tuesday, Virginia reported 213 cases, including 150 in Northern Virginia. Men in their 20s and 30s account for about 80% of cases. About 35% of cases have occurred in black men and 32% of cases in white men, according to the data. State public health officials say they are working with 35 health departments to gather information on who is accessing the vaccine and plan to post it online soon as well.
As DC Health chief leaves, vaccine equity returns to center stage
“Covid has reminded us of the importance of understanding the different populations that are affected by a condition and the importance of looking at data through an equity lens to ensure we have the resources, prevention strategies and vaccines we need to [serve] populations that are affected,” Laurie Forlano, deputy director of the office of epidemiology, said in an interview Tuesday.
The Virginia Department of Health also plans to hold listening sessions with clinical providers and town halls to ensure those most at risk have all the information they need to decide whether to get vaccinated. as well as fair access to appointments, Forlano said.
Back in the district, Monday’s letter marks the latest example of lawmakers pressing the health department on its vaccination strategy and data reporting.
In a contentious call with DC Health at the start of the pandemic, lawmakers pointed out that residents of affluent neighborhoods monopolized rare vaccine appointments at the expense of hard-hit neighborhoods. And in May, board members urged Nesbitt to update case data more frequently, prompting him to write in a letter obtained by Axios that their public criticisms risked “undermining trust in DC Health and public health.” “.
In the board members’ letter, they asked Lewis how the department was using the lessons it had learned during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly with communication and vaccine distribution.
“We didn’t know there was an inequitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccine until we saw the data, and then we saw it was skewed,” Silverman recalled. “It just builds public confidence when you release information – maybe DC Health has done a great job and we encourage them.”