Vaccines are being distributed at men's health clinics and bathhouses in Vancouver due to the spread of monkeypox, as 21 cases are confirmed in British Columbia.
Hundreds of confirmed monkeypox cases have been recorded in the country, mostly in Quebec and Ontario. However, on Friday, a case was confirmed in southern Vancouver Island — the first confirmed case of monkeypox outside the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region.
The disease has not yet been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, despite a large number of cases detected daily. Officials have said the current risk to the public is very low.
Canadian authorities have, however, said the majority of people testing positive for the virus had sexual contact with other men. That led to VCH's vaccination drive at men's health clinics and bathhouses this week, targeting those most at risk ahead of Pride celebrations at the end of July.
Number of confirmed monkeypox cases by province
Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer with VCH, said the vaccine supply is limited, but there is currently a high demand.
"Although we started vaccinating close contacts of cases and going to places where there had been exposures like bathhouses or cruising areas, we've now expanded the vaccination campaign to people who are at risk of getting monkeypox," he told CBC News.
Lysyshyn said vaccines were coming from a national stockpile managed by the federal government, and demand was far outstripping supply.
"We have big outbreaks happening in Toronto and in Montreal, and so they've requested big amounts of vaccines," he said. "We have a smaller outbreak here, but we want to avoid getting into the situation that they're seeing there."
Monkeypox can cause fever, aches, and chills, as well as a trademark rash or lesions all over the body.
Authorities have stressed that the infection can spread to anyone who is exposed through close contact with an infected person or contaminated objects, and it is not limited to men who have sex with other men.
VCH are currently focusing on HIV clinics and bathhouses as part of the vaccine rollout, and are planning to set up a walk-in vaccination clinic in the West End — Vancouver's historic hub for the LGBTQ+ community.
More than 100 vaccinated at one event
Tod Berezowski, general manager of the Steamworks Bathhouse in Vancouver, said there was huge uptake when his establishment had a two-day vaccination clinic last weekend.
He says 104 people were vaccinated over two days, and he felt an obligation to his community to get them protected against the virus.
"The way we need to really look at this right now is preventative," he said. "Let's just get it out. People want it. Let's get them there so that we don't have those cases."
Berezowski said it was particularly important to do so for the city's gay community ahead of the Vancouver pride parade, which officially starts on July 31, but will have multiple events in the week leading up to it.
He says he was fielding calls for days after the vaccination clinic wrapped up, and he hopes that VCH will continue to expand vaccination efforts.
"I kind of feel that if we had enough vaccines going around right now, people should be able to line up and just go and get it."