OPINION: The 5Cs must take a proactive approach to monkeypox — and we’re already behind

A white building with a red tile roof has a sign reading "Robert E. Tranquada, Student Services Center".
The 5Cs must address monkeypox head on, especially when it comes to vaccine and testing accessibility, writes guest columnist Niva Laurent SC ’24. (Jojo Sanders • The Student Life)

The U.S. currently accounts for 25 percent of the world’s monkeypox cases, and last week, the Biden administration finally declared another public health emergency surrounding the outbreak — nearly three months after the country’s first reported case. Despite these developments, none of the 5Cs have announced precautionary measures or made any acknowledgement that monkeypox poses a threat to life on campus.

I originally held back on writing this opinion, but current conditions compelled me to do otherwise. When I first sat down to write this letter in July, there were 5,189 confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S. In the span of a week, the Centers for Disease Controls confirmed that the national case count rose by roughly 2,000 cases. This is a far cry from the World Health Organization’s original assessment in May that monkeypox would not become another pandemic. 

By late July, WHO declared monkeypox to be a global health emergency. Although the impact of monkeypox has been limited thus far, it is vital to understand that we don’t know the full scope of the emerging outbreak.

The CDC has documented 826 monkeypox cases in California, but the state-level case count, which includes confirmed and probable cases, estimates there could be upwards of 1,310 current cases, and transmission could continue to rise in the coming weeks. These developments are significant, especially considering that the fall semester is steadily approaching and the 5Cs still haven’t announced how they plan to address the illness.

Although the Biden administration’s emergency declaration allows for more resources to fight the ongoing monkeypox outbreak, this effort could take time to ease complications surrounding testing and vaccination. So far, vaccination accessibility has been restricted across the country intensifying the need for the 5Cs to act. 

In Los Angeles County, first vaccine doses have been prioritized for the most at-risk populations and as of Aug, 2, pre-registration for vaccinations has been temporarily suspended, both due to capacity limitations.

Although emerging research indicates that adequate monkeypox protection may be possible through one dose, two doses are recommended by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for full protection.

In the U.S., additional supply of the Jynneos vaccine, which is utilized for inoculation against monkeypox, is not expected to become widely available until October. The alternative is the ACAM2000 vaccine, which is often viewed as a less desirable choice due to its usage of live vaccinia virus and potential to rule out vaccination for some people who are immunocompromised.

Additionally, there are now emerging complications which plague monkeypox testing efforts. Unlike with COVID-19, at-home tests are currently not possible with monkeypox. 

Testing to confirm a probable case of monkeypox primarily requires the swabbing of skin lesions. Although lesions have become the distinctive symptom of monkeypox, the CDC says they aren’t present until the onset of other symptoms, following an incubation period of one-to-two-weeks. Until lesions are visible, a person could experience flu-like symptoms and not comprehend the true nature of their illness until well into their infection.

Without a clear action plan from Student Health Services, or the 5Cs, it’s unknown whether these limited vaccination and testing options will be accessible to students who meet the LACDPH’s eligibility criteria.

As everyone at the 5Cs has come to learn, illness routinely reverberates through our campus community. This has happened with coronavirus in numerous instances, but also with norovirus, hand, foot and mouth disease, and the common cold.

We’ve become accustomed to illness shuttering campus life in conditions that could have been  circumvented with preemptive measures, such as the COVID-19 outbreak that occurred last spring. Aside from SHS overcounting cases, there was a major emphasis towards testing and precautionary behavior during the return from winter break, which was erroneously ignored when 5C students came back from spring break. 

Instead of waiting for the monkeypox outbreak to escalate, steps should be taken now to mitigate spread, especially in our collective environment. This summer, the University of Texas-Austin reported their first confirmed monkeypox case, in addition to schools such as Georgetown University and the University of California at Berkeley, so it’s likely that the 5Cs will see cases as well. 

As we prepare to handle cases on our own campuses, we also need to collectively repudiate the understanding that monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection that only impacts gay and bisexual couples, as debunked in a recent Slate article featuring Scripps College professor Jih Fei-Cheng. Not only does this mischaracterization weaponize stigma and homophobia, it also downplays the possibility of transmission through other interactions, such as touching shared surfaces or exposure to respiratory secretions.

Institutions of higher education in the U.S. are already taking a wide range of initiatives related to monkeypox mitigation. California Institute of Technology released a campus-wide statement highlighting monkeypox symptoms and general risks, and steps to take in suspected cases; University of California at Riverside is currently taking the steps to acquire limited doses of the monkeypox vaccine while both Baylor University and Texas A&M expect to have student health providers trained to identify monkeypox cases by the start of the fall. Although the impact surrounding each of these efforts vary, they would ultimately protect the 5C community if implemented. 

Will students at the 5Cs have resources on campus or through local healthcare providers for monkeypox vaccinations or testing with a suspected case? How will monkeypox quarantine and isolation be implemented and how would it differ from COVID-19 policies? Will there be any changes to how communal resources function, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms? These are some of the questions the 5Cs need to be asking now, instead of neglecting monkeypox until the eleventh hour. 

Guest columnist Niva Laurent SC ’24 is from South Florida. She enjoys playlisting and discovering new music.

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