People hanging out this past Saturday night at Velvet Lounge, a gay bar in Santa Ana, might have been surprised by a special offer: Along with drinks, gay and bisexual men could also get a free meningitis shot inside the venue.
The event was the first in a series of pop-up vaccination clinics that the Orange County Health Care Agency plans to hold at gay bars and clubs during August and September. It was a hit, with 31 people getting the shot and many expressing appreciation that the agency was there, says Jenna Sarin, the health care agency's division manager for family health.
The clinics are part of larger push by Los Angeles and Orange County health officials to get all gay and bisexual men vaccinated against meningitis. There are always a few cases in a typical year, but there's been a spike since March: 22 in L.A. and Orange Counties, two of them fatal. Most of the patients have been gay or bisexual men.
In L.A. County, the Board of Supervisors last month directed the public health department to develop a comprehensive meningitis vaccination, information and outreach campaign.
The vaccination protects against meningococcal disease, which usually causes meningitis or a blood stream infection.
Symptoms of meningitis usually occur within five days. They include high fever, stiff neck, skin rash, severe headache, low blood pressure, sensitivity to bright lights and generalized muscle pains. The infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss and death. It progresses quickly, so immediate diagnosis and treatment is imperative, health experts say.
Designing a vaccination campaign to target a specific group of people - gay and bisexual men - "certainly is a challenge," says Marc Meulman, the Orange County agency's division manager for disease control and epidemiology. But, he adds, "I think the upside is there are venues that cater specifically to this population, so we want to take advantage of that."
And in case you were wondering: It's safe to drink alcohol after getting the meningitis shot, according to Dr. Matthew Zahn, Orange County's medical director of epidemiology and assessment. He says alcohol will not compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Here's where gay and bisexual men can get immunized in L.A. and Orange Counties:
Los Angeles County
People with health insurance and those who are HIV-positive and eligible for the Ryan White Program should see their doctor to get the meningitis vaccine. Free meningococcal vaccinations are available at the following locations, according to the LA Department of Public Health:
- Los Angeles LGBT Center: 1625 N. Schrader Blvd., Los Angeles. By appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call (323) 993-7500.
- APLA Health & Wellness Gleicher/Chen Health Center: 3743 S. La Brea Ave. Call (323) 329-9900 for information.
- APLA Health & Wellness Long Beach Health Center: 1043 Elm Ave., Suite 302, Long Beach. Call (562) 432-0700 for more information.
- AHF Wellness Center - Hollywood: 1300 N. Vermont Ave., Suite 407, Los Angeles. Call (866) 339-2525 for more information. Clinic is located in the Doctor's Tower building.
- AHF Wellness Center - West Adams: 2146 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (888) 836-5946 for more information.
- AHF Wellness Center - San Fernando Valley: 4835 Van Nuys Blvd., Suite 200, Sherman Oaks. Call (866) 625-4559 for more information.
- AHF Wellness Centers - Long Beach: 3500 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach. Call (562) 494-4983 for more information.
- Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services: 2525 Grand Ave, Long Beach. By appointment only. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call (562) 570-4315 for more information.
- Curtis-Tucker Public Health Center: 123 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (310) 419-5325 for more information.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Public Health (in STD Clinic): 11833 S. Wilmington Ave., Los Angeles. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (323) 568-8100 for more information.
- Whittier Health Center: 7643 S. Painter Ave, Whittier. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (562) 464-5350 for more information.
- Pomona Public Health Center: 750 S. Park Ave., Pomona. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (909) 868-0235 for more information.
- North Hollywood Health Center: (in STD Clinic) 5300 Tujunga Ave., North Hollywood. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (818) 766-3982 for more information.
- Hollywood/Wilshire Public Health Center: 5205 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (323) 769-7800 for more information.
The Orange County Health Care Agency says gay and bisexual men should talk to their medical provider about getting the vaccination. Shots are also available for free at the county's upcoming pop-up clinics:
- The LGBT Center OC, Santa Ana, CA. Aug. 16, 4:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
- The Frat House, 8112 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, CA. Aug 20, 9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
- The LGBT Center OC,Santa Ana, CA. Aug. 23, 4:30 p.m. - 7 p.m
- The Frat House, 8112 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, CA. Aug. 26, 9 p.m. - 11 p.m.
The LGBT Center OC, Santa Ana, CA. Aug. 30, 4:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
The Health Care Agency says those who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover the vaccine can also get the shot at low or no cost through the county at one of these locations:
- Immunization Clinic: 1725 W. 17th St., Santa Ana. Monday - Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., closed for lunch from 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
- Testing, Treatment and Care Clinic: 1725 W. 17th St., Santa Ana. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.