World · August 4, 2022

The White House declares monkeypox a public health emergency

The Biden administration on Thursday declared the monkeypox outbreak a national public health emergency in an effort to raise awareness and accelerate efforts to combat it.

“We are ready to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and urge all Americans to take monkeypox seriously and take responsibility for helping us deal with this virus,” said Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department. della Salute and Human Services, during a briefing with officials and media.

The move, which has been under consideration for several weeks, aims to speed up potential treatments and vaccines, which the statement said should no longer go through customary federal reviews. The order will also allow the government more flexibility to administer the current supply of vaccines.

Currently, the government is reportedly under-stocking Jynneos, the only monkeypox vaccine currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Although officials said about 1.6 million Americans are at high risk for monkeypox, the United States only has enough doses of Jynneos to fully inoculate 550,000 individuals.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency on July 23, and some state officials have done the same, including the governor of California. Gavin Newsom, who issued a statewide emergency statement on Monday.

Earlier this week, Biden appointed Robert J. Fenton Jr., a longtime Federal Emergency Management Agency official, to coordinate the national response to the virus.

Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox, although symptoms are sometimes milder. It is spreading widely among men who have sex with men, as well as between transgender and non-binary people, although health officials warn that anyone can contract the virus through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs or bodily fluids, or by touching their clothing or bedding used by a person with the virus.

Nearly 800 cases have been confirmed in California, according to the most recent data from the California Department of Public Health. The state reported that 98.3 percent of these cases were confirmed in men, most of whom identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

Nationally, more than 6,600 cases have been confirmed since May 18, mainly among gay men. Most experts believe these figures greatly underestimate the actual spread of the virus.

Test capacity, Becerra said, has grown to 80,000 tests per week, a figure that should continue to grow.

Times staff writer Taryn Luna contributed to this report.