White House declares monkeypox a public health emergency

The Biden administration on Thursday declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency to raise awareness and step up efforts to combat it.

“We are ready to take our response to the next level in the fight against this virus, and we call on every American to take monkeypox seriously and take responsibility to help us fight this virus,” said Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. during a briefing with officials and the media.

The move, which has been under consideration for weeks, would allow federal agencies to channel more funds into the development and testing of vaccines and other drugs, unlock emergency funding reserves, and allow more workers to be hired to fight the outbreak.

But the administration, Becerra said, is for the time being postponing a second emergency order that would help speed up other potential treatments and vaccines that would no longer need to pass routine federal screenings, according to the announcement.

The government is currently reporting underdelivered in its stock of Jynneos, the only monkeypox vaccine currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Although officials have said about 1.6 million Americans are at high risk of contracting monkeypox, there are only enough doses of Jynneos in the US to fully inoculate 550,000 people.

According to Don O’Connell, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the nation’s vaccine supply will increase by another 150,000 doses in September.

On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency, and several government officials did the same, including the governor of California. Gavin Newsom, who Declared a state of emergency on Monday.

Earlier this week, Biden appointed Robert J. Fenton Jr.a longtime employee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency responsible for coordinating the national response to the virus.

Fenton, who also spoke at Thursday’s briefing, vowed to “leave no stone unturned in our efforts to fight this virus.” But the speed at which the virus is spreading is a problem, he said.

“This is a unique outbreak and it is spreading faster than previous outbreaks,” he said.

Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox, although the symptoms are sometimes milder. It is primarily spread among men who have sex with men, as well as 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 clothes or bedding. used by a person with a virus.

Nearly 800 cases have been confirmed in California, according to the latest figures from the California Department of Health. The state said 98.3% of these cases were confirmed in men, most of whom identify as part of the LGBT community.

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

Testing capacity has grown to 80,000 tests per week, Becerra said, and that figure should continue to rise.

Times staffer Taryn Luna contributed to this report.