Meet the pharmacist responsible for giving half of his county's monkeypox vaccine

° Сlint Hopkins and his husband, Joel Hockman, own Pucci’s Pharmacy in Sacramento, but you might not always find them there. Since the monkeypox outbreak began in the US, the couple and their team of health professionals are just as likely to be at a bar, a private party, or the local LGBTQ center administering monkeypox vaccines.

“We’re in a bit of a unique situation because we’re LGBT and part of the community that’s at the highest risk,” says Hockman, COO of Pucci’s. “We’re aware of the social events that happen through our social network, so we reached out and said, ‘Hey, we know you’re going to get together — let’s come and vaccinate everyone while they’re there.’

A vaccine to prevent monkeypox, called Jynneos, can protect people from becoming infected before they have been exposed to the virus. The latest outbreak spread rapidly among people in LGBTQ communities in the US and several countries after people were potentially exposed at large gatherings. But vaccines don’t always reach this high-risk group because of the stigma. Some people worry about being identified as LGBTQ, while others prefer not to disclose their sexual orientation to employers, friends, or family, which may happen if they are seen at a testing site or in line at a community health clinic to receive monkeypox vaccine. Hopkins and his team are trying to remove these barriers. After obtaining doses from the Sacramento Public Health Department, they began offering monkeypox vaccines not only at their pharmacy, but also at popular LGBTQ bars in the area and at a weekly social gathering at friends’ homes; at the first such gathering, 75 people were vaccinated. “We’ve given doses to people who otherwise wouldn’t have come in for vaccination,” says Hopkins.

Rick Russell got his first dose there in July. “It was pretty awesome and pretty amazing,” said Russell, a retired Navy firefighter and recruiter who is now an analyst with the California Department of Defense. “They gave 75 vaccinations to persons who otherwise had no other way or means of getting vaccinated. What they’re doing for the community here in Sacramento — there’s no one else who’s ever done anything like it.”

Word of their pop-up monkeypox vaccine clinics has spread as far as neighboring Nevada, and people are making the two-hour drive to Sacramento to get vaccinated. “No one has taken care of the community like they have, and they do, simply because they’re part of our community,” Russell says.

Read more: What it really feels like to have monkeypox

Pucci’s Pharmacy has a legacy of serving the underserved in its community. In 2016, Hopkins and Hockman purchased the business from Tom Nelson, who was one of the few pharmacists in the area to write prescriptions for new anti-HIV drugs during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which became life-changing therapies for people living with HIV. Hopkins and Hockman have long offered over-the-counter HIV testing and prescribing PrEPwhich can protect people from becoming infected or becoming seriously ill with HIV, for people who are at high risk of exposure to the virus.

When COVID-19 hit, Hopkins contacted the county health department and offered to help with mass vaccination campaigns. And when the first cases of monkeypox began to appear, the county turned to him to help administer the doses. “We said, ‘Absolutely, this is our community,'” Hopkins says. “Not only are we helping our local community in Sacramento, but as LGBT owners, the virus has impacted our larger community the most. It was very important for us to get ahead of him.”

The duo’s nomadic vaccination clinics have become so popular that they consume their days, nights and weekends. At a recent clinic at the Sacramento LGBTQ Center on a Saturday in August, Hopkins’ team vaccinated 309 people. So far, his team has administered more than half of the monkeypox vaccine doses distributed to Sacramento County.

Although Hopkins and Hockman were reimbursed for administered COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, however, this source of financial support does not exist for monkeypox vaccines, they say. Unlike the COVID-19 vaccines, the government does not reimburse the monkeypox vaccine, which requires two doses. The few insurers that cover the vaccines pay just $19 per dose, which doesn’t cover the cost of the staff and equipment needed to administer them, Hopkins says. “That’s less than half the amount paid for vaccines against COVID-19 and there’s no fund for uninsured patients.” He also points out that because of the stigma surrounding monkeypox, some people don’t want to provide information about their health insurance. because they do not want their employer, family or other loved ones to know that they have received the monkeypox vaccine. This means that in some cases they provide the vaccines for free. “We need a fund to pay for these patients to be vaccinated to protect them,” he says. Hopkins says he has yet to receive a refund for any of the monkeypox vaccines he administered.

For now, “we’re doing this for charity,” says Hopkins. “But in many other communities, they don’t have a pharmacy like ours that is owned by LGBT owners who are concerned about taking care of their community.”

However, Hopkins and Hockman serve as an example to other communities and even the federal government. In August, Dr. Rochelle Walenskydirector of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing that the agency plans to offer monkeypox vaccines at upcoming events to facilitate vaccine access and administration for at-risk communities.

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