Local pharmacist offers experimental monkeypox drug as cases balloon

CHARLOTTE — Right now, North Carolina health officials are reporting 122 monkeypox cases across the state and Mecklenburg County is at the center of the outbreak.

With nearly half of the cases being identified locally, some people are eager to get vaccine protection against the disease.

As of Wednesday, more than 3,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered statewide.

With the waitlist growing, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is exploring another drug to prevent the disease.

TPOXX, typically used to treat smallpox, has not yet received FDA approval to treat monkeypox. But with the diseases falling in the same family of viruses, health experts are hopeful TPOXX can help people with compromised immune systems, severe illness or other vulnerabilities.

Queens Pharmacy in southeast Charlotte received a shipment of the medicine this week, but pharmacists warn it won’t last long.

“We have enough to cover enough treatments for 10 patients now and we will follow up again next week to see when their next allocations will be,” said Rutvij Parikh, a pharmacist at the Elizabeth drugstore. “We’re going to use it up pretty fast, yeah. I have a feeling.”

The staff at Queens Pharmacy expected to get one small shipment of TPOXX from the county. Instead, they were pleasantly surprised to get a second box of the pills.

Parikh said he has been answering questions about monkeypox.

“So far we had about seven to eight people ask about it in the last week or so,” Parikh said. “Like ‘What’s the deal with it? What are the treatment options?’”

As people continue to sign up for the monkeypox vaccine, federal health leaders are changing how the vaccine is given in hopes of stretching the limited doses.

Instead of putting the vaccine into the fat, it would go between layers of the skin. The change would allow health care professionals to vaccinate up to five people instead to just one.

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Still, leaders caution it might not be enough to meet demand.

Mecklenburg County health leaders stress that anyone can get the virus, but it is disproportionally impacting the LGBTQ community.

Many of the cases have been in men and nearly all in men who have sex with men, which is consistent with findings from other states and countries.

“It’s important to remember that anyone in any group of people can get monkeypox, which spreads mostly through prolonged skin-to-skin contact,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley in a news release. “Partnering together to prioritize vaccine for the individuals currently most impacted by the virus will provide relief for that community and help control further spread of the outbreak.”

(Watch the video below: Monkeypox: What you need to know)