The queue to get the monkeypox vaccine at a West Side vaccination site began forming at 11 a.m., three hours before the gates opened. It rolled around the corner and down the alley.
Some of those waiting leaned against the wall, enjoying the sunshine.
But every last person in line – 140 in all – took the hit.
They had all come last week to TaskForce Prevention & Community Service, a community center for black and brown LGBTQ youth, a site chosen by Chicago public health officials for the vulnerable group it supports.
Stanton Hinson joined that queue last Thursday at 11:15 a.m. The San Francisco-based nurse was halfway through a three-month family visit to Belmont Cragin when the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the first case of monkeypox in Chicago.
It was June 2. As of Thursday, the number of cases had risen to 478.
“It’s starting to spill over into the community, and everyone here is a sexual being,” he said. “We want to be able to have sex and feel free, and not have to worry about getting sick if it’s something we can prevent.”
Put off by the wait to get vaccinated elsewhere, the 33-year-old went to the Austin site.
“I had tried to go to Boystown, but the line was so long.”
He was vaccinated shortly after the doors opened at 2 p.m.
Barely a dozen sites in the city offer the rare vaccine, leading some researchers to venture far out of their way to obtain it.
Andrew Vo, a grocery store worker in McHenry, drove 50 miles because he couldn’t find anything closer. The 27-year-old was worried as he was part of one of the eligible groups.
Although anyone can catch the virus, most cases in Chicago have been diagnosed in men around the age of 35, health officials said. The disease has mainly been identified in men who have sex with men, but the city’s health commissioner, Dr Allison Arwady, has warned the public that monkeypox “is not a disease homosexual”.
TaskForce, at 9 N. Cicero Ave., offers walk-in vaccines Wednesdays and Thursdays, 2-5 p.m. Doses are administered by staff at Rush Medical Center and UI Health.
Founded in 1990, the community center offers HIV/STI education and prevention; helps people find housing; tackles food insecurity; provides mental health services; and even hosts a Vogue School, where attendees can learn their dance routines.
“A lot of people are struggling,” executive director Chris Balthazar said. “They are exposed to multiple forms of trauma, many inject drugs and have multiple vulnerabilities. But it is a resilient, talented and artistic community.
But many who show up for the vaccine are not regulars and come from outside the neighborhood.
Last Wednesday, 170 doses were administered, more than double their average.
“Quite honestly, the word got out, because we’re probably the only ones doing something like this on the West Side,” Balthazar said.
The center did not have to refuse anyone. And for many of these newcomers, the center was a welcome discovery.
Jorge Alcaraz said he would ask about volunteering even if he couldn’t get shot.
“I’m passionate about uplifting queer youth,” he said. “I was young and queer and I wish I had, not a role model, but just the chance to see what people like me looked like when they were older.”
The 29-year-old is a diversity, equity and inclusion manager for a public relations company.
There was at least one regular online Thursday — Chris “Blu” Duncan, photographer and former Amazon employee. Duncan came to the center six years ago for Vogue School.
Now 26, he decided to get vaccinated after coming into close contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox.
Despite his fears for himself, Duncan worried for the center’s wider community. “We are so open and to each other. We have so many risk factors.
But the South Side resident struck a note of hope. “We want to hang out and we want to be with each other. Nothing will stop us. »
Michael Loria is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times viaReport for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.