Equitas Health: The feds are denying us direct access to the monkeypox vaccine

Equitas’ designation as a “Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Look-Alike” disqualifies them from direct access vaccine distribution.

One of Ohio’s largest LGBTQ+-serving healthcare organizations has said that the federal government is denying them direct access to the monkeypox vaccine at a critical time during a national public health emergency.

Equitas Health, a nonprofit community healthcare system, has offices in 21 locations across Ohio. When a smallpox-related vaccine was approved in late July to prevent monkeypox, they partnered with other healthcare organizations for distribution.

“Equitas Health has been at the forefront of the monkeypox response and has distributed more monkeypox vaccines to LGBTQ+ communities than any other community health center in Ohio,” said Dwayne Steward, Chief People and Programs Officer. “This is thanks to our partnerships with government health leaders like Columbus Public Health and the Cincinnati Health Department.”

On Thursday, Equitas Health representatives met with officials from the U.S. Health Resources & Service Administration (HRSA) to discuss gaining direct access to the monkeypox vaccine.

Because of Equitas Health’s designation as a “Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Look-Alike,” Equitas officials said the federal agency denied Equitas Health’s request to gain access.

According to the HRSA website:

Health Center Program Look-Alikes are community-based health care providers that meet the requirements of the HRSA Health Center Program, but do not receive Health Center Program funding. They provide primary care services in underserved areas, provide care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operate under a governing board that includes patients.

HRSA Headquarters confirmed to The Buckeye Flame that the designation did indeed determine vaccine access.

“HRSA received an allocation of vaccines for distribution to Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) sites only,” said Scott Kodish in HRSA’s Office of Communications. “At this time FQHCs and Look-Alikes may work with their states or jurisdictions to get access to the monkeypox vaccine or refer patients to clinics that are receiving and administering doses.”

Equitas officials expressed that — given their previous work and the health emergency — a different decision should have been made.

“This recent news from the federal government is disappointing, especially given the rising number of new infections, continued testing backlog, and issues with vaccine availability across the country,” said Rhea Debussy, Equitas’ Director of External Affairs.

On Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health released a Monkeypox Dashboard, which features an interactive map detailing where cases are being reported across the state.

Out of the nearly 17,000 cases currently in the United States, 147 are currently reported in Ohio. 69 of those cases are in Cuyahoga County, and 33 are in Franklin County.

Public officials are calling for a different outcome to HRSA’s current guidelines.

“These FQHC Look-Alikes should have direct access to the vaccine,” said Ohio State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). “So many Look-Alikes are serving marginalized communities and, in [Equitas’] case, at-risk communities. My hope would be that someone would say, “Oh my gosh, what an unintended consequence that we need to fix’ and then create an exemption.”

Ignite Action:

  • For more information on the Monkeypox virus, including information on symptoms and vaccines, visit the Ohio Department of Health.

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