Some members of the gay community in northern Ontario want clearer messages about monkeypox and better access to vaccines to protect against the virus.
The majority of the 400 people infected in the province so far have been gay men, but anyone can contract the virus through any type of close contact.
Anywhere in Canadaprovinces and territories have reported 957 cases of monkeypox as of August 5, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Only two of those cases are in northern Ontario: one in the Sudbury-Manitoulin health district and one in the North Bay-Parry Sound health unit.
Ken Miller, one of the founders of the Northern Ontario Pride Network, said monkey pox reminds many people of the 1980s AIDS crisis that was mistakenly labeled the ‘gay plague’ .
“There’s a certain amount of hysteria that comes with it,” Miller said.
“I think there are people who are scared and there are specifically people who are scared of the gay community about it, as well as people in the gay community who are scared of catching it.”
He is happy to see the monkeypox vaccine be made more available in the region.
At first, you could only get vaccinated against the virus in areas where cases were confirmed.
But the Thunder Bay health unit has now agreed to make the vaccine available to gay, bisexual and trans men who have multiple sexual partners or who are otherwise at high risk of contracting monkeypox.
Miller would like to see the province allow anyone to get the monkeypox vaccine and be clearer in public health messaging that anyone can contract the virus through any type of close contact.
“Prolonged contact, right? So it’s like cuddling, I mean, even wrestling, playing sports. Yeah, sexual contact and all that. But just being aware of who they’re getting close to and for how long,” he said.
Public Health Sudbury & Districts notes that it is “important not to stigmatize others based on sex, gender or sexual orientation, as this can lead to misunderstanding of risk.”
The health unit has distributed 21 doses of monkeypox vaccine since July 18.