In bid to get ahead of cases, Hawaii health center launches monkeypox hotline

Alisha Kahookele answers people's questions about monkeypox.
Alisha Kahookele answers people's questions about monkeypox.(HNN)
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 10:22 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2022 at 4:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is trying to get ahead of the rising number of monkeypox cases.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health announced four additional cases, bringing the number of Hawaii infections up to 22.

WCCHC now runs a monkeypox hotline to answer questions, have testing and vaccines, and visits communities that are particularly vulnerable.

For resources and vaccine details, call Waianae Comp’s monkeypox hotline at (808) 427-0442.

“Outreach for this particular health emergency has been the most challenging of any health emergency that I’ve worked on,” said Jacob Schafer, director of infection control at the health center.

Schafer said messaging has been tricky. He and other health leaders have to avoid stigmatizing a vulnerable population and not promoting unnecessary fear.

“Right now, it’s very clear, the people that are most at risk are gay and bisexual men are, as we say in the medical terminology, men who have sex with men,” said Schafer.

“But we know anybody can get monkeypox. Anyone’s at risk regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation.”

Schafer is part of that community. They’re eligible for the vaccine and he was one of the first ones to get the shot. He said symptoms are generally less severe than COVID boosters.

“Tiredness and maybe some localized arm pain where you were vaccinated is really the only side effects that we’re seeing happen long term,” Schafer said.

“Vaccination and treatment available since day one of this outbreak,” said Katie Arita-Chang, the DOH acting communications director. “The public health system is a little bit more prepared to handle monkeypox.”

While monkeypox is completely separate from COVID, the DOH says the COVID pandemic has taught them a thing or two about messaging and vaccine distribution.

“I feel like our role here is very pertinent to our community,” said Alisha Kahookele, who works on the WCCHC COVID and monkeypox hotline.

“The majority of them do call because they’re nervous,” she said. “Which is why they want the vaccine. So that’s when we tell them if they’re eligible or not. The ones who are eligible want to be scheduled right away.”

Consider other resources:

Hawaii Department of Health Monkeypox Hotline: (808) 586-4462, or Kauai residents can call (808) 246-9577

Malama I Ke Ola on Maui: (808) 871-7772

Hawaiʻi Health & Harm Reduction Center: (808) 521-2437