NEW YORK, NY—EmblemHealth, one of the nation's largest nonprofit health insurers, and advocacy and community leaders held an MPV (formerly referred to as monkeypox virus) educational town hall on Wednesday. Leading concerns raised during the public event included the spread and risks of infection, vaccine disparities and eligibility, and the stigmatization of certain groups.
"MPV can infect anyone, which is why we want everyone to be aware of the symptoms, the risks, and the risk mitigation strategies," said Dr. Navarra Rodriguez, President, and Chief Medical Officer at AdvantageCare Physicians (ACPNY). "It is also important for community providers and organizations like ACPNY and EmblemHealth, which are trusted sources of care, information, and understanding of the unique and diverse communities we serve, to be part of the overall public health emergency response."
"We must utilize the lessons learned [during the pandemic] to keep our communities healthy," said Dr. EL Zein, Senior Medical Director of Population Health, and Clinician Engagement at EmblemHealth. "The health department and public health communities are working to address disparities in access to vaccination by reporting on it and trying to mitigate it as well. Together we can help fix these issues by increasing access in communities most affected by the disparities, by educating through trusted channels, and by having the vaccine available in trusted places where people can go and seek care and ask questions without fear of stigma."
EmblemHealth's virtual MPV– Educating and Supporting our Communities– Town Hall featured physician and population health experts from EmblemHealth and ACPNY. They addressed frequently asked questions and concerns about MPV symptoms, testing, vaccines, and prevention. GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) and other community officials also discussed the impact on the LGBTQ+ community and how to ensure the city's virus response prioritizes vulnerable communities while decreasing the stigmas and racial disparities associated with the disease.
New York City Council Member Crystal Hudson (Brooklyn, District 35), who is a member of the council's Health committee and co-chair of the LGBTQIA+ Caucus, said "It's so important that we continue to destigmatize MPV and make certain that everyone understands that anyone can get this virus and that we are reaching the communities that we know have been disproportionately impacted. We can’t just inform those communities; we also have to provide the resources and services they need—including access to vaccines and testing along with culturally competent healthcare. Healthcare providers that know and understand their needs—the needs of the LGBTQIA+ communities, communities of color, and other marginalized communities are crucial. I thank and commend EmblemHealth for their partnership and for leading the way and having these types of conversations."
"Focus on science, not stigma," added Jason Cianciotto, Vice President, Communications & Policy at GMHC. "It's easy to get distracted in our social media-driven world […], but we fundamentally believe that people have the capacity to understand and help support two basic points. (1) Monkeypox is a virus that can affect anyone. There is no such thing as a gay virus, (2) Those most affected in the United States and Europe are members of gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with other men communities. Those two things can exist at the same time. As long as we accurately and clearly talk about how MPV is transmitted, and how people can reduce their risk of infection, and we don't participate and promote shaming of people based on who they are and who they have sex with."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, EmblemHealth and ACPNY worked in partnership with New York State, New York City, community-based organizations, and local leaders to ensure that tests and vaccines were accessible and equitably distributed to city residents, particularly those living in underserved and hard to reach communities as well as frontline workers and first responders. But according to recent city data, inequities in vaccine distribution are again following along racial and ethnic lines in New York.
As not to return to the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, EmblemHealth encourages and strongly supports a coordinated effort among public and private stakeholders to ensure all communities, especially those disproportionately impacted and the most vulnerable, have ongoing access to education, preventive services, testing, and vaccines.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE TOWN HALL DISCUSSION
If you have questions or concerns about MPV, please visit the EmblemHealth resource and information center at emblemhealth.com/live-well/monkeypox-virus.