The monkeypox virus (photo credit: CDC/Cynthia S. Goldsmith)

ATLANTA – The federal government is releasing monkeypox vaccine to Georgia in a phased approach.

The state will receive 5,943 doses of the Jynneos vaccine from the Strategic National Stockpile during the first two phases, Dr. Alexander Millman, chief medical officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), told the agency’s board Tuesday.

The DPH will focus that initial supply on two main groups: people who have “high-risk” exposure to a confirmed monkeypox case and others who have “certain risk factors that might make them likely to have had high-risk exposure” to the monkeypox virus. 

The vaccine doses for Georgia must be carefully managed, especially because each person needs two shots a month apart, Millman said.  

Millman explained that though there is another potential vaccine for monkeypox, the ACAM-2000 vaccine, the federal government is releasing the Jynneos vaccine because it is generally safer.  

Georgia has identified more than 40 monkeypox cases so far, Dr. Cherie Drenzek, the state epidemiologist, said Tuesday.

Monkeypox is a viral disease that causes the skin to break out in pustules.  The disease is usually mild but can be life threatening in some cases.  The current outbreak is unusual because, as of last month, at least 3,400 cases had been identified in  countries where monkeypox is not typically found.

Drenzek said monkeypox requires “very close person-to-person contact” for transmission, making it different from COVID or other respiratory diseases that are transmitted through the air.  

She said the Georgia monkeypox cases have all been found in people who are from the “broad metro area of Atlanta,” though that interpretation may reflect a testing capability bias.  

Drenzek said monkeypox in the current outbreak is primarily being found among men who have sex with men.

The greatest risk factor for monkeypox is close contact with someone else who had monkeypox lesions, she said.

The recent Georgia cases do not include histories of international travel, Drenzek said.  

“This suggests…that there is established community spread,” she added.  

The current global outbreak of monkeypox differs from prior known outbreaks in several ways, Drenzek said. Patients with monkeypox in the current global outbreak tend to have very few lesions – “even one to two,” she said.  

“It just doesn’t look like what we knew monkeypox to look like in the past,” she said.  

Drenzek said the DPH laboratory has been testing for monkeypox, and two new commercial labs can now test for the disease as well. Other commercial labs in Georgia will soon be able to test for the disease she said.  

Drenzek said the DPH has epidemiologists on call 24-7 to consult with clinicians about suspected cases of monkeypox at 1-866-PUB-HLTH. 

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, Drenzek told DPH board members a large number of cases of COVID-19 in Georgia are now attributable to the new BA.5 variant of the virus. 

BA.5 currently accounts for 65% of all SARS-COVID circulating virus, according to the latest figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID vaccines and boosters have played a key role in reducing severe COVID outcomes like hospitalization and death.  

“These boosters are still holding very well against severe outcomes,” Drenzek said.  

Drenzek said most hospitalizations and deaths have been among those who are not vaccinated, and the greatest numbers of those dying are more than 70 years old.  

“It’s a matter of getting boosted now,” she said.

Drenzek suggested that soon the United States might approve a second booster for people under 50.

Nancy Nydam, communications director for the DPH, showed a new COVID vaccination ad campaign that encourages Georgians to get vaccinated.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.