Tourists among those getting vaccinated against monkeypox in Montreal as global emergency is declared

MONTREAL — Tourists lined up for a monkeypox vaccination in Montreal on Saturday, as the World Health Organization declared the virus a global health emergency.

Brian Maci was one of many New Yorkers waiting to be vaccinated at an outdoor walk-in clinic in the city’s gay village.

Maci, who was already in Montreal on vacation, said he was prompted to get vaccinated in Canada after unsuccessfully trying to schedule an appointment back home.

“It’s like concert tickets,” he said of the process in New York.

He said he logged on as soon as appointments opened at 6 p.m., only to have to constantly refresh a stalled app and eventually be told no appointments were available.

Later, during a drag show, he heard an announcement that vaccines were available in Montreal, including for tourists.

“They mentioned it was here and it’s the best thing ever because the community is reaching out, and I can get it without having to deal with the United States,” he said. .

Another couple on vacation from New York told a similar story while trying to book a vaccine appointment at their home.

“I was kicked out of the system maybe five or six times and eventually there were no more appointments, and it was unclear when more appointments would be released,” said Brad, a man 36 year old who did not want to give his last name. .

“We were able to come here and get a walk-in vaccine and it’s amazing, amazing service,” he said.

Montreal offers vaccination against the disease to all men who have sex with men, as well as people who have been exposed to monkeypox.

On Saturday, a dozen healthcare workers sat in pink and blue tents on Ste-Catherine Street, providing information to people who stopped by to learn about the vaccine.

Men were asked for their health cards or, in the case of tourists, ID, and they would sit in the tents or perch on a nearby wall waiting their turn.

Michael Libman, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University, said opening the vaccine to tourists made “perfect sense” and was the right thing to do to prevent the spread of the disease.

“The big problem is not local spread, but people moving the disease from place to place,” he said in a phone interview.

The World Health Organization announced on Saturday that monkeypox is now considered a global emergency, noting that it has spread to more than 70 countries.

A global emergency is the organization’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean that a disease is particularly communicable or deadly. Similar statements were made for the 2016 Zika virus in Latin America and ongoing efforts to eradicate polio, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. .

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has taken the decision to call monkeypox a global emergency despite a lack of consensus among experts on the UN health agency’s emergency committee, saying that he had acted as “a tie-breaker”. It was the first time that a head of a United Nations health agency unilaterally made such a decision without the recommendation of an expert.

“We have an epidemic that has spread rapidly around the world through new modes of transmission, of which we understand too little,” he said. “I know it hasn’t been an easy or straightforward process and there are differing views.”

Although monkeypox has been established in parts of West and Central Africa for decades, it was not known to trigger large epidemics beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until in May, when authorities detected dozens of outbreaks in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

There were 681 confirmed cases of monkeypox in five provinces across Canada as of Friday, including 331 in Quebec, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Quebec government said in an email Friday that monkeypox in the province is “relatively contained” despite numbers continuing to rise.

The province said it did not keep figures on how many vaccines of the 13,000 administered so far had gone to out-of-province tourists.

“In general, we recommend that people get vaccinated in their province or region of origin so that the vaccine has time to be effective before their visit to Quebec or Montreal,” writes the Ministry of Health.

Libman said the WHO’s global emergency declaration is a “call to action” that countries need to contain it.

He says that for now, the disease is mainly transmitted among a small segment of the population – men who report having intimate contact with men – which makes it controllable as long as health officials act quickly.

But he notes that anyone can contract monkeypox, which is transmitted through prolonged close contact via respiratory droplets, direct contact with broken skin or bodily fluids, or through contaminated clothing or bedding.

That means if left unchecked it will “inevitably” spread to other groups, including households, he said.

Most of the men lining up in Montreal said they weren’t too worried about contracting monkeypox or the WHO announcement.

“For me, it’s more about prevention, but you never know,” said Mario Thouin, a resident of Drummondville, Que.

Isaiah Hagerman, 23, said he had already thought about getting the shot, but the WHO announcement gave him the boost he needed.

“If someone had given me a brochure maybe a week ago, I probably would have missed it,” he said.

Maci, for his part, said he was heartened by the warm welcome he received in Montreal as well as the community’s efforts to protect people.

“(Monkeypox) don’t scare me because of that,” he said, pointing to the pink and blue tents. “New York is stressful.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022.

— With files from the Associated Press

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press