US declares monkeypox a public health emergency and ramps up Jynneos doses

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Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Thursday in a bid to galvanize awareness and unlock additional flexibility and funding to fight the spread of the virus. virus.

“We are ready to take our response to the next level to fight this virus, and we urge all Americans to take monkeypox seriously and take responsibility for helping us fight this virus,” Becerra said. at a press conference on Thursday.

The health secretary is also considering a second statement authorizing federal officials to expedite medical countermeasures, such as potential treatments and vaccines, without going through full federal reviews. It would also allow for greater flexibility in how the current vaccine supply is administered, Becerra said.

On Thursday afternoon, federal officials said they were still finalizing the official declaration of a public health emergency, which would be posted on an HHS webpage.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23. Here’s what you need to know about how it spreads. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: CDC/The Washington Post)

The administration’s announcement follows similar decisions by health officials in New York, California and Illinois and global health leaders. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, its highest warning, after confirmed outbreaks in about 70 countries where the virus has not historically spread. .

Ask The Post: What are your questions about monkeypox?

Health officials also said Thursday they were taking steps to improve access to Jynneos, the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against the virus through a two-dose schedule. Federal authorities have identified about 1.6 million people as being at highest risk for monkeypox, but the United States has only received enough doses of Jynneos to fully cover about 550,000 people. Officials said they had fast-tracked the arrival of 150,000 more doses of Jynneos in September, and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told reporters a ‘dose-saving’ plan was being seriously considered. .

“We are considering an approach … that would allow health care providers to use an existing single-dose vial of the vaccine to deliver a total of five separate doses,” Califf said, adding that the plan “sounds good.” and will be finalized in the next few days.

Federal leaders have spent weeks debating whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, and officials said Thursday’s announcement was part of a broader campaign to contain the virus. The announcement follows the White House’s decision this week to appoint Robert J. Fenton Jr., a longtime Federal Emergency Management Agency official, as national virus response coordinator.

“This public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatment to affected communities more quickly. And that will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so that we can effectively track and attack this outbreak,” Fenton said Thursday.

Thursday’s announcements were cheered by President Biden’s Capitol Hill allies, including House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), who had pressed the administration to declare an emergency.

“This critical step will allow the Biden administration to build on the progress it has already made in expanding the availability of vaccines, tests and treatments nationwide,” Maloney said in a statement.

But public health experts called Thursday’s announcement belated, saying the emergency declaration was long overdue to speed up funding and flexibility.

“It was about time,” David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Administrators, said in a statement. “With this declaration in place, the administration must move quickly to allocate funds to state and local health departments for … clinical services” to deal with monkeypox.

The top Republican on the Senate Health Committee said the Biden administration did not act quickly to contain the virus.

“I have been taken aback by the extent to which the administration appears to be out of touch with the realities on the ground for health care providers, public health personnel and, most importantly, patients,” Senator Richard Burr wrote ( RN.C.) in a letter to Becerra, calling the government’s response “a devastating failure for public health.”

More than 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United States since May 18, the vast majority occurring in men who have sex with men – a total that has doubled approximately every 8 days, but which experts estimate be a significant undercount. Authorities also reported at least five cases of monkeypox in children, who were believed to have been infected through family transmission.

WHO officials last week advised men who have sex with men to temporarily reduce their number of sexual partners in a bid to reduce transmission.

What to know about monkeypox symptoms, treatments and protection

While health officials have pointed out that monkeypox poses far less of a risk than the coronavirus – with only a handful of deaths worldwide and none to date in the United States – the virus can cause fever, lymph nodes swollen lymphatics, rashes and often painful lesions that can last for weeks and lead to scarring. The virus is also linked to more serious complications in children, pregnant women and people with immune diseases.

The infectious disease, which comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox, is spread primarily through close contact, and experts say they believe skin-to-skin exposure during sexual activity is a major source of transmission in the current epidemic. But they warn the virus is spread through other forms of contact and can circulate outside the gay community, noting a handful of cases in women and children.

Some Biden officials had previously argued that declaring a monkeypox emergency would draw attention to the growing outbreak and bolster the country’s overall response. For example, the emergency declaration can be used to compel hospitals to report more data on their monkeypox patients and allow the Food and Drug Administration to expedite medical countermeasures that might otherwise take months or years. years to take the traditional regulatory exams. Many public health experts have also backed the WHO’s decision to declare a public health emergency, saying a coordinated global response is “essential” to ward off the growing outbreak.

On Thursday, federal officials also circulated an “options note” on how a public health emergency would improve the nation’s response to monkeypox, according to two officials who were not authorized to comment. POLITICO first reported the existence of the memo.

But Becerra’s decision to declare monkeypox an emergency could lead to political complications for the White House, which has faced calls from advocates to declare gun violence a public health emergency and climate change a national emergency. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and reproductive health advocacy groups have also lobbied the administration to declare abortion access a public health emergency following of the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade and led to new restrictions on abortion nationwide.

The Biden administration has also continued to renew public health emergency declarations, which expire every 90 days, for opioids and the coronavirus.

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