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U.S. health officials expand approach to monkeypox vaccines as cases crest

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With Southern Decadence coming up, Biden health officials have given an additional 6,000 monkeypox vaccines for New Orleans. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

At the end of a summer when the number of cases in the monkeypox outbreak rose sharply, the increase in reported infections now appears to be cresting amid increased public messaging and access to vaccines, prompting U.S. health officials to expand their strategy with a new equity-based effort to combat the disease.

Although the reported number of cases, according to most data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, has reached 18,417 in the United States, the number of additional cases decreased from the high at the start of the month, suggesting a downward trajectory in the spread of the disease as vaccines become more readily available.

The number of additional monkeypox cases in beginning to crest, per CDC data.

The numbers are also consistent with a new study finding a significant number of gay and bisexual men, as well as other men who have sex with men, have been limiting contact with casual sex partners, which has been the driving force in the spread of monkeypox. The report from the CDC last week found limiting one-time sexual encounters can significantly reduce the transmission of monkeypox virus, while about half of men who have sex with men are cutting down on sexual activity amid the outbreak, including one-night stands and app hookups.

With the trajectory of monkeypox on the decline, the Biden administration announced a new initiative with the goal of ensuring vaccine distribution is consistent with the value of equity, including on the basis of geographic, racial, and ethnic lines. A total of 10,000 doses of vaccines in the federal government’s supply will be earmarked for localities that have used 50 percent of their allocated supply to support equity interventions, such as outreach to Black and Latino communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the disease or a specific event and celebration for LGBTQ people, health officials announced Tuesday.

Demetre Daskalakis, the Biden administration’s face of LGBTQ outreach for monkeypox and deputy coordinator for the White House monkeypox task force, laid out the details for the new equity-based supplementary initiative in a conference call Tuesday with reporters.

“So what we mean by an equity intervention is what works in your state, county, or city to reach people who we may not be reaching, especially people of color and members of the LGBTQI+ population,” Daskalakis said. “What it means is: It can be working with a specific group or venue that reaches the right people for monkeypox prevention. Once these innovative strategies have been reviewed by CDC, vaccines will be supplied to jumpstart these ideas and accelerate reach deeper into communities.”

The additional equity-based approach to monkeypox vaccine distribution is consistent with the Biden administration’s efforts in recent weeks to distribute additional shots to localities hosting large-scale events for LGTBQ people at the end of the summer, such as Black Pride in Atlanta and Southern Decadence in New Orleans.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards joined the conference call with reporters on Tuesday and had high praise for the Biden administration for making the additional 6,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine available in time for Southern Decadence, which takes place in the final week of August through Labor Day weekend.

“This is an example — I think a really solid example — of what a federal-state-local partnership and — and then the community providers as well,” Bel Edwards said. “Because the public health folks in New Orleans have been tremendous, but also the community providers.”

Bel Edwards said health officials in the Biden administration have, in addition to providing more vaccines, sent down multidisciplinary teams to New Orleans to help the state organize and prepare as well as set up testing and vaccination sites “that are going to be convenient for the at-risk population.”

A reporter from the New Orleans Advocate on the conference call, however, asked a pointed question on the recent distribution of vaccines to New Orleans in advance of Southern Decadence: The current approach to vaccine administration requires a series of shots, and even with new distribution most people won’t have even had their second shot by that time, so how can Southern Decadence think they will be protected, especially when vaccines take time to become fully effective?

Daskalakis, while promoting the equity-based approach to vaccine distribution, said the Biden administration has been “very clear” that first shot of the monkeypox vaccine “doesn’t mean that you’re protected for the event.”

“We’re going to talk to them about lots of other strategies that they can reduce risk of acquiring monkeypox, but also make it clear that that shot is not for today; it’s for four weeks from now, plus two weeks after that second dose when you get maximum protection,” Daskalakis said.

First death of monkeypox patient reported

Although the number of cases is cresting, concern about monkeypox continues as well as the potential danger of the disease. Case in point: The death of a hospital patient in Texas who had monkeypox, but may have to succumbed to other factors, has drawn attention amid a conventional understanding the skin disease isn’t fatal. The case represents the first time in the United States that a patient with monkeypox died while having the condition.

The patient, as confirmed by the Texas Department of State Health Services on Tuesday, was an adult resident of Harris County who was “severely immunocompromised” and state health officials reviewing the case said it is under investigation to determine what role monkeypox played in the death.

Jenny McQuiston, a CDC official who specializes in research on zoological diseases that spread from animals to people, said in response to a question on the casualty that health officials are also evaluating the death and the role monkeypox played.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that deaths due to monkeypox, while possible, remain very rare,” McQuiston said. “In most cases, people are experiencing infection that resolves over time. And there have been very few deaths even recorded globally. Out of over 40,000 cases around the world, only a handful of fatalities have been reported.”

Despite the cresting in the number of cases, many health experts aren’t sold on the new approach to vaccines announced earlier this month by the Biden administration, which sought to expand existing doses of vaccines fivefold as supply hasn’t met demand. The new vaccine approach calls for injecting the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer).

Bob Fenton, a regional administrator for FEMA and the response coordinator for the White House task force, said about 75 percent of jurisdictions have already adopted the new approach to vaccine injection, while an additional 20 percent are working toward a “fully operational intradermal method.”

“We continue to be laser-focused on doing everything within our power to help jurisdictions and clinicians get shots in arms,” Fenton said. “We’re seeing more and more jurisdictions adopt the intradermal administration.”

Data of this new intradermal approach, critics have said, is insufficient to support the idea it will be as effective as subcutaneous injections, although the Biden administration continues to give assurances the new route for injections is tested and safe. According to a report earlier this month in the Washington Post, the manufacturer of the JYNNEOS vaccine in Denmark, Bavaria Nordic, privately threatened to cut off supply of the shots based on a conversation with health officials on objections the vaccine hasn’t been approved for intradermal use.

McQuiston, in response to a question on whether or not U.S. health officials are collecting newly available real-world information on the results of the new vaccine approach, said U.S. health officials continue to receive data on monkeypox and soon onboard information from additional states.

“CDC operates a system called VAERS — or the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System — and we’re actively looking at…different types of events that might be reported post-vaccination,” McQuiston said. ” And we are actively gathering information from the different jurisdictions and states and cities about which vaccines they’re administering — whether it’s subcutaneous or intradermal — and we are gathering those data now, as we speak.”

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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