News Our Way

Technical bug bungles New York City's monkeypox vaccine rollout

NEW YORK — New Yorkers struggled mostly in vain to book appointments for one of the city’s scarce monkeypox vaccines Wednesday in a botched roll-out that the health department is blaming on technological glitches.

The hiccup comes as transmission, mostly among gay and bisexual men, has surged in recent weeks. As of Monday, the city had tallied 111 cases of Monkeypox — nearly double to 62 reported last Wednesday, and a 28-percent jump from Friday. The city received nearly 6,000 hotly anticipated vaccines from the federal government that were supposed to go up for grabs Wednesday.

Authorities tapped walk-in clinic chain MedRite to administer the vaccines and operate the website where New Yorkers could schedule an appointment for one. The system was supposed to launch Wednesday afternoon, but some people were able to get access prematurely. It later became inaccessible, and when the city officially opened the portal later in the day, it quickly went down again — prompting frustration, one advocate said.

“We’ve just been waiting for this to drop,” said Michael Donnelly, a data scientist who has been coordinating LGBT New Yorkers in anticipation of the vaccine roll-out. “People were literally asking every day when these vaccines would become available.”

MedRite could not immediately be reached for comment. The health department blamed unspecified technical glitches.

“We are sorry about the issues today with scheduling monkeypox vaccination appointments,” the city health department tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “We are experiencing technical difficulties and will post another update in a few hours about additional appointments.”

People were able to register early by using an old link. When the first 1,000 doses were available at the Chelsea Sexual Health Clinic in Manhattan last month, New Yorkers were given a link to register with MedRite. Two weeks later, people who had registered went back to that same website and were able to successfully book appointments, Donnelly said.

The link originally came from the city, according to Donnelly, who said he has personally spoken with people who got through on Wednesday. The health department pledged to honor those appointments.

It was not immediately clear how many people were able secure a dose amid the glitches. The health department didn’t immediately respond to a question about the figures — or whether the vaccines will be earmarked for first doses. The vaccine is a two-dose regimen that needs to be administered four weeks apart.

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease that is transmitted through close contact and causes painful blisters, among other symptoms. Although anyone can contract the virus, New York City’s outbreak is circulating primarily among men who have sex with men. The first batch of appointments for 1,000 Jynneos vaccines were quickly snatched up by the end of June, and demand has continued to rise, prompting the Biden administration to send doses to states where transmission is high.

Orthopoxvirus, the family monkeypox belongs to, was first suspected in New York City on May 21.

The city health department, which is treating a positive orthopoxvirus case as presumed monkeypox, has recommended that men who have sex with multiple male partners, particularly those who are unknown to the individual, should get vaccinated. Prior to sending the additional 6,000 doses, the federal government recommended that people get vaccinated if they have a known exposure, which may prompt the city health department to update its eligibility criteria.