Philly has released new data on the monkeypox outbreak. Here’s what we learned.
The data provide detail into the race, gender, and age of patients and vaccine recipients in the city for the first time.
Philadelphia released demographic data on its monkeypox containment efforts Thursday, providing detail about the race, gender, and age of patients and vaccine recipients for the first time.
The data paint a clearer picture of which Philly residents are most affected by the outbreak as the federal government continues to scramble to provide access to testing, vaccines, and treatment:
Men currently make up the largest share of monkeypox cases and vaccine recipients.
People in their thirties make up nearly half of cases and vaccinations.
While over half of cases have been identified among Black Philadelphians, they represent less than a quarter of vaccine recipients.
About one in six people vaccinated in Philly don’t live in the city.
The data come with major limitations: Cases across the country are increasing, but limited testing doesn’t fully capture the spread of the disease. Philly reported 59 cases in the last week of July but Thursday’s release doesn’t include testing data that would contextualize the extent of the undercount.
Limited testing also hinders outreach to notify people of monkeypox exposure and vaccination options. Philly has been administering about 1,000 vaccines per week in recent weeks. The city has stretched thin vaccine supplies as federal vaccine shipments cut back, though Thursday the White House announced a supply of 1.8 million doses available to order as of Monday.
Here’s what we learned from Thursday’s data:
The vast majority of cases in the United States have been among men who have sex with men. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released national case counts, including Pennsylvania, through July 22. The CDC’s demographic data covers less than half of the nearly 3,000 cases reported, but the numbers align with Philly’s — nearly 99% of those cases nationally were among men.
In Philly, 87% of reported monkeypox cases have been in cisgender men and 93% of vaccine recipients are men.
The United Kingdom reported last month that men had far higher test positivity rates than women, suggesting that monkeypox isn’t just being identified among men — it is primarily circulating among them.
That doesn’t mean monkeypox will remain that way. The virus is transmissible through close contact, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender.
Nearly half of the city’s recorded cases have been among people between the ages of 30 and 39, with a quarter of cases among those in their twenties. Vaccinations follow a similar pattern.
The CDC’s spotty national data put the median age of a monkeypox case at 35.
Philadelphia has reported fewer than 20 cases among residents over 50. Among the potential reasons for the low case rate in older residents: They’re more likely to have received a smallpox vaccination in their youth, which continues to be effective decades later in preventing monkeypox. Health experts recommend, though, that people in high-risk categories seek vaccination against monkeypox even if they’ve been previously vaccinated against smallpox.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health doesn’t have a racial breakdown of the city’s high-risk population, although it is working on producing those estimates. That makes it hard to precisely measure racial disparities in testing and vaccine access.
It’s clear, though, that case and vaccination trends diverge sharply with race — unlike gender and age.
Black Philadelphians make up 55% of reported cases, compared with 23% of vaccinations. That’s essentially a mirror image of the white rates: 27% of reported cases are among white residents, who have received 57% of the vaccines.
City health officials are eager to partner with businesses and community organizations that cater to the LGBTQ population, but are hindered by a lack of funding, said Cheryl Bettigole, the Philadelphia health commissioner.
“You hate to say something hasn’t worked,” she said, “but these numbers aren’t where we want them.”