The city of Berkeley has partnered with Steamworks, a bathhouse in Berkeley that primarily serves gay men, to provide monkeypox vaccines to the public.
The vaccination rollout, which began Wednesday, was advertised on Steamworks’ Instagram account and website.
“I understand that they have limited quantities. However, it was very on the down low,” said an anonymous source, who asked to be unnamed for fear of retaliation in his workplace. “No one goes to the Steamworks website, so how were people supposed to find out about this?”
According to the anonymous source, the mid-day scheduling of the vaccination site also posed an accessibility issue to those who work during the day.
The anonymous source also noted that the vaccination site was poorly organized, with a lack of adequate disinfection and excessive wait times. In addition, though the vaccines were advertised as “first come, first serve,” Steamworks staff allegedly gave priority to paying customers, according to the anonymous source.
“At 4 p.m., the paying customer line was only about 20 people; there were still 400 people plus in my line,” the source said. “It’s really gross that they were using the opportunity to make a quick buck off of us and take advantage of our vulnerability.”
Additionally, the source said he joined the line outside Steamworks at 10:30 a.m. but did not receive the vaccine until 7:30 p.m.
According to City Councilmember Terry Taplin, the disproportionate diagnoses of monkeypox in men who have sex with other men was the main reason why the city chose Steamworks as the vaccination site.
Monkeypox, which was first detected in Alameda County on June 9, has been recorded with higher numbers among men who have sex with other men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s a great benefit to the city that we’ve been able to partner with Steamworks and meet that high-needs population where they’re already at,” Taplin said. “That being said, I do think we’re going to have to lean more on the state and the (federal government) to increase widespread access to the vaccine.”
However, according to the anonymous source, the way monkeypox has been addressed thus far resembles the handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which led to widespread stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community.
The anonymous source also recalled that he and others were targeted while in line to receive their vaccinations. According to him, they were recorded and threatened by passersby.
“We all know and should be smarter than to assume that diseases and infections and viruses discriminate based on sexuality … Clearly in the media they’re pinning this on the gay community, and yet they decided to gather all these gay men outside of a gay bathhouse,” the anonymous source said. “It was just a recipe for disaster.”