At Hivpoint, we were delighted when monkeypox vaccinations for those at risk of infection were finally allowed to start on Tuesday, October 11. There had been a lot of inquiries about vaccinations since the end of the summer. We were happy that we could finally inform the key groups about the start of the vaccinations and offer them the opportunity to get vaccinated at Hivpoint. It took some time to start vaccinating the key groups, because before the use of a new vaccine, the authorities had to go through a wide range of regulations.
In Hivpoint, we had been discussing with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare since the spring how to most effectively prevent monkeypox infections. Hivpoint was asked to participate in the planning of the prevention work with the authorities, because we have been working with the target group of men who have sex with men since the 80s and we know the channels for reaching them.
Vaccinations were promoted in channels where the key groups were effectively reached
Comparing to the authorities, an NGO like Hivpoint has the advantage of being part of the community of the key groups and being familiar with the communication channels they use. Hivpoint has experience in online outreach work and in implementing targeted communication in channels used by those in the key groups of monkeypox vaccination.
In addition to Hivpoint’s own channels and services, we provided information about vaccinations in the dating service Grindr, the LiveChat service for gay and bisexual men, the HUS infection outpatient clinic, the gay sauna and video locations as well as the NGO HivFinland and the fetish community MSC Finland. We worked closely with other NGOs whose communities include those who benefit from the vaccinations.
Targeted communication to the key groups paid off and all the appointments for the vaccinations were booked in record time.
Nine vaccination events, 700 people vaccinated
Nine vaccination events were held and 700 people were vaccinated at Hivpoint. We introduced an electronic booking system for vaccinations and it turned out to be very functional. Our assessment is that we reached the right target group for the vaccinations.
The one concern we had was how the people who were not born in Finland would find the information about the monkeypox vaccinations. However, this concern turned out to be unnecessary, as we estimate that about a third of those vaccinated were born outside Finland.
During a vaccination day, more than a hundred people could visit Hivpoint. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at our office was calm, and there were no queues. Those who came to be vaccinated were offered the opportunity for a rapid HIV test and sexual health counselling. This opportunity was used by more than a hundred people. We received a lot of good feedback on our services and premises as well as the friendliness of the staff of city of Helsinki and Hivpoint.
A common cause with the city’s health professionals
The employees of the City of Helsinki and Hivpoint felt that the cooperation was a success. The atmosphere was enthusiastic during all the vaccination days, and the vaccinations were handled professionally in a multiprofessional group.
We did not face any major challenges during the process. The only thing that caused inconvenience to the clients was that influenza vaccinations were launched at the same time as monkeypox vaccines. There should be an interval of about two weeks between the monkeypox and flu vaccines, which is why we had to turn away a few people who came to the monkeypox vaccine. Fortunately, a new vaccination appointment was arranged for them later.
Cooperation between authorities and NGOs is important
In the case of the monkeypox epidemic, we have at the latest realized how important the cooperation between authorities and NGOs is. NGOs both in Finland and elsewhere in the world know the key groups of their work well and are actors who can react quickly to the changes in the operating environment.
The task of the NGOs is to operate at the grassroot level as experts in matters affecting the well-being of the people in their communities as well as the defenders of their rights. In the prevention of infectious diseases, it is important to harness this expertise to support the activities of the authorities.
The results of this cooperation speak for themselves. Most of the key groups applied for vaccinations at Hivpoint, the vaccinations were carried out quickly and efficiently, and we are pleased to note that the number of monkeypox infections is also decreasing.
The model of cooperation between authorities and NGOs launched in the case of the monkeypox epidemic will certainly continue to carry over in the promotion of sexual health, the prevention of infectious diseases and the development of low-threshold services. This is a good place to continue!
Director of HIV prevention and services