Stories from the Monkeypox Response

A Tough Challenge in the Big Easy: How CDC Supported Vaccine Equity at Southern Decadence

A Southern Decadence Health Hub sign advertising vaccination for monkeypox and COVID-19.

CDC responded to a request from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) and New Orleans Health Department to support a series of vaccine distribution events before and during the Southern Decadence festival as monkeypox cases were on the rise in the U.S. in June and July 2022. Organizers sought to reach communities hardest hit by monkeypox, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Southern Decadence, described as “Gay Mardi Gras,” attracts more than 250,000 visitors to New Orleans, making it one of the largest annual festivals in the city. In response to the LDH and New Orleans Health Department request, CDC worked across the agency—and with state, private, and community partners—to support the diverse needs of the community and festival planners. In total, 14 CDC staff deployed to assist, with expertise ranging from epidemiology and vaccines to communication and behavioral science. CDC helped LDH and community partners set up the Southern Decadence Health Hub in Armstrong Park. Armstrong Park, one of the oldest historic Black neighborhoods in the United States, remains a vibrant center of Black activity in New Orleans today. The Southern Decadence Health Hub offered monkeypox vaccines, clinical consultations, testing, and health education, along with COVID-19 bivalent vaccines and COVID-19 home test kits.

LDH and partners also hosted 13 vaccine events in New Orleans in the weeks leading up to the festival. Many of these pre-Decadence events were held at venues frequented by Black men who have sex with men. This helped ensure equitable access to services for local Black residents who may not attend Southern Decadence. Given that Black Louisianans make up 60% of monkeypox cases identified in the state, it was critical to bring resources directly to the people who need them. These pre-Decadence community vaccine efforts in New Orleans were made possible by CDC support for LDH to obtain additional JYNNEOS vaccine doses beyond what was already allocated to them. In total, more than 3,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine were administered before and during the Southern Decadence festival.

Grassroots Connections are Key to CDC’s Vaccine Equity Efforts in the Peach State

A mobile health unit utilized for a monkeypox vaccination clinic.

In Georgia, Black men who have sex with men made up 78 percent of monkeypox cases this summer. As Atlanta Black Gay Pride (ABGP) weekend celebrates diversity and the impact of distinctly Black gay and queer culture on the community, it presented an ideal opportunity to put health equity in action. At the invitation of the Georgia Department of Public Health (GA DPH), CDC supported the state by allocating 5,500 additional vaccine doses for ABGP attendees.

In total, more than 4,200 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine were administered at events leading up to and during ABGP. Nearly half of vaccine recipients were Black, and eight percent were Hispanic or Latino. GA DPH’s collaboration with ABGP organizers, local health departments, and community-based organizations was critical to the success of this event, as they directly engaged and encouraged attendees to get vaccinated. CDC and the GA DPH have plans for additional vaccine events so that people who were vaccinated for monkeypox before and during ABGP will be able to receive their second doses and complete the series.

CDC Ramps Up Vaccine Equity Efforts at Charlotte Pride

Charlotte Pride Parade participants ride past a sign offering monkeypox vaccine to event attendees.

Charlotte Pride is the city’s largest street festival and parade, attracting more than 200,000 people. The events presented the perfect backdrop for a monkeypox vaccine effort, given that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men accounted for nearly all the monkeypox cases this summer. Near the end of summer 2022, almost all of North Carolina’s monkeypox cases were found in men who have sex with men, and 70% of cases were in Black men.

CDC worked with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Mecklenburg County Health Department to make sure there would be enough vaccine on hand for all festival attendees who wished to be vaccinated. A vital part of the effort’s success is due to their partnerships with community-based organizations, including connecting with diverse populations through key influencers on social media, respected members of the clergy, and diverse night club promoters. With CDC’s support, the Mecklenburg County Health Department vaccinated 540 people at a series of festival events, clinics, and non-traditional settings. These non-traditional settings—including private parties, bars, and clubs—were most successful in reaching Black men.