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Mecklenburg County gets on Grindr to share info on monkeypox

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mecklenburg County is emerging as a monkeypox hotspot in North Carolina, and local health officials are turning to LGBTQ dating apps and party promoters to get the message out about the virus and cut down on transmission.

According to state data, 94 cases of monkeypox had been confirmed in North Carolina as of last week, and at least 48 — or about half — were in Mecklenburg County.

The virus spreads through skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact, forming painful or itchy bumps or blisters on a person's face, hands, feet, chest or genitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While anyone can contract the virus, more than 80% of cases in Mecklenburg County have been among African American men. County Health Director Raynard Washington said many were gay or bisexual men who contracted the virus through sexual contact.

That's why Washington said the county had begun buying ads on LGBTQ dating and hookup apps like Grindr, Jack'd and Scruff to push information about the virus and how to get vaccinated.

"A lot of folks are meeting their sexual partners or dates via these apps, so we're able to provide information there about how folks can sign up to get a vaccine, how to add themselves to the waitlist," he said.

Bar napkins, LGBTQ party promoters, vaccine clinics also part of the strategy

Washington also said the county had ordered bar napkins printed with QR codes linking people to the county's monkeypox vaccine waitlist, and hoped to distribute them at upcoming LGBTQ events. The county was also exploring the possibility of setting up mobile vaccination clinics at future LGBTQ events as well.

In addition, Washington said the county was recruiting LGBTQ party promoters who could include the health department in upcoming events. So far, Washington said the county has identified "at least one."

"We are working to get access to the community in a way that meets people where they are," Washington said. "That's one of the things that we know is important in public health. You can't always just build a house and expect people are going to come to it. Sometimes you have to bring services to people where they are."

The health department is also working with Charlotte Pride in hopes of setting up a mobile vaccination clinic at the Charlotte Pride parade scheduled for Aug. 21.

Washington said he hoped the ads and other outreach efforts would help close the racial gap among people signing up for the vaccine in Mecklenburg County. As of Friday, Washington said roughly 50% of people who had received the vaccine in the county were non-Hispanic whites.

Public service announcements about monkeypox could start popping up on LGBTQ dating apps elsewhere in the state, according to a spokesperson for North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services. The representative said the department was also looking at purchasing ad space on Grindr and similar apps for monkeypox PSA's, and hoped to launch the campaign sometime this week.

How to get a vaccine in Mecklenburg County

Do you need a monkeypox vaccine?

The two-dose vaccine is offered at no cost to people 18 and older who do not currently have monkeypox and who self-identify as high risk according to the following criteria:

  • People who have been in close physical contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox in the last 14 days.
  • Men who have sex with men, or transgender individuals who report any of the following in the past 90 days.
    • Having multiple sex partners
    • Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection
    • Receiving HIV PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)

People who meet those requirements can sign up for a spot onthe county's vaccine waitlist.

The waitlist is first come, first serve. As of Friday, Washington said 2,136 people were on the list, and "several hundred" people were signing up each day.

The county had been administering first doses to about 100 people per day, but planned to increase that number this week, Washington said.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal