President Biden’s health secretary on Thursday spoke of a growing monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency, a rare designation signaling that the virus now poses a significant risk to Americans and setting in motion measures to contain the threat.
The declaration came more than a week after the World Health Organization global health emergency declared over the flash and this empowers federal agencies channel money into the development and evaluation of vaccines and drugs, access emergency funding and hire more workers to help fight the outbreak, which began in May.
“We are ready to take our response to the next level in the fight against this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said at a briefing.
The President and Mr. Becerra are under intense pressure from activists and public health experts to tackle the outbreak more aggressively. Earlier this week, mr. Biden appointed a veteran emergency responder and respected infectious disease specialist to coordinate the White House response, a sign that the administration is stepping up its efforts.
The supply of the monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos was severely limited and the administration was criticized for moving too slow increase the number of doses. Declaring an emergency will not alleviate this shortage, but the administration can take steps to ensure faster access to tecovirimat, the drug recommended for this disease.
As of Wednesday, nearly 7,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the United States. highest per capita in Washington, New York and Georgia. More than 99 percent of cases are among men who have sex with men.
The virus is transmitted mainly through close physical contact; the infection is rarely fatal—no deaths have been reported in the United States—but can be very painful. The country currently has one of the highest rates of monkeypox infection in the world, and the number is expected to rise as surveillance and testing improve.
Declaring a monkeypox emergency sends “a strong message that this is important, that this needs to be dealt with now,” said Ann Rimouin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of the WHO’s monkeypox advisory group.
Dr. Rimouin is one of the scientific advisers who called on the WHO to classify monkeypox as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and the organization has used that definition just seven times since 2007.
Since the panelists are divided on this issue, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, has overturned a decision by advisers to declare monkeypox a global emergency, currently reserved for only two other diseases, Covid-19 and polio.
In the United States, demands for stronger action against monkeypox have intensified. Recently Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat from California, urged the Biden administration step up the production and distribution of vaccines and develop a long-term strategy to combat the virus.
Senator Patti Murray, Washington State Democrat who chairs the health committee, pushed The Department of Health and Human Services to provide a detailed report on the steps it is taking to contain the outbreak.
AIDS activists who are highly critical of the administration have been demanding a declaration of emergency for weeks. “It’s all too late,” said James Krellenstein, founder of the advocacy group PrEP4All. “I really don’t understand why they didn’t do this a few weeks ago.”
Lawrence O. Gostin, Director, Institute for National and Global Health. O’Neill at Georgetown University, described the declaration of emergency as “a key turning point in the response to monkeypox after a bleak start.”
The decision to declare a state of emergency is likely to be politically unpopular, the doctor said. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease physician at Emory University in Atlanta. He noted that many in Congress were pushing for the administration to call off the public health emergency due to Covid-19.
However, “I think it is high time for the US to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency,” he said.
The emergency sign will allow FDA for approval measures that can diagnose, prevent, or treat monkeypox without having to undergo the usual exhaustive agency screening. The agency relies heavily on this provision to expedite coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments.
Declaring an emergency also gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greater access to information from health care providers and states. As a general rule, federal agencies such as the CDC cannot force states to share case or immunization data.
During an outbreak, federal health officials routinely general information testing capacity or the number of vaccines shipped to the states. But CDC case numbers lag behind those of local health departments, and the number of people vaccinated or their demographic information is largely unavailable.
“We are again really concerned about the fact that we do not have the authority in the agency to receive this data,” the doctor said. This was stated by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at an event recently hosted by The Washington Post.
The agency is working to expand its access to government data, but so far the information is patchy and unreliable. Local health departments are underfunded, understaffed and depleted after more than two years of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Declaring this monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency is important, but even more important is increasing federal and local coordination, closing our gaps in vaccine supply, and getting funds from Congress to address this crisis,” he said. . Gregg Gonsalves, Epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health and WHO Monkeypox Advisor.
“Otherwise, we are talking about a new endemic virus that has taken root in this country.”