United States declares public health emergency over monkeypox outbreak

WASHINGTON: The federal government declared a public health emergency Thursday to strengthen the response to the monkeypox outbreak that has infected more than 7,100 Americans.
The announcement will free up money and other resources to fight the virus, which can cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like lumps in many parts of the body.
“We are prepared to take our response to the next level to address this virus, and we urge all Americans to take monkey pox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, head of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
The HHS statement comes as the Biden administration has faced criticism over the availability of the monkeypox vaccine. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they have not received enough two-dose vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supplies of the first doses.
The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses available and has helped increase national diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.
The monkeypox virus is spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, petting, and kissing, as well as by sharing bedding, towels, and clothing. The people who have gotten sick so far have been mainly men who have sex with men. But health officials stress that the virus can infect anyone.
No one in the United States has died. Some deaths have been reported in other countries.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration appointed top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as White House coordinators to combat monkeypox.
Thursday’s declaration is an important and overdue step, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.
“It signals the seriousness and purpose of the US government and sounds a global alarm,” he said.
Under the statement, HHS may withdraw emergency funding, hire or reassign staff to deal with the outbreak, and take other measures to control the virus.
For example, the announcement should help the federal government seek more information from state and local health officials about who is getting infected and who is being vaccinated. That information can be used to better understand how the outbreak is developing and how well the vaccine is working.
Gostin said the US government has been too cautious and should have declared a national emergency sooner. Public health measures to control outbreaks have faced increasing legal challenges in recent years, but Gostin did not expect that to happen with monkeypox.
“It’s a textbook case of a public health emergency,” Gostin said. β€œIt is not a red or blue status issue. There is no political opposition to the fight against monkeypox.”
A public health emergency can spread, similar to what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic, he noted.
The urgency of the current response stems from the rapid spread of the virus, coupled with the limited availability of the two-dose vaccine called Jynneos, which is considered the main medical weapon against the disease.
The doses, given 28 days apart, are currently given to people shortly after they think they were exposed, as a measure to prevent symptoms.
Becerra announced the emergency declaration during a call with journalists. During the call, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf said regulators are reviewing an approach that would stretch supplies by allowing health professionals to vaccinate up to five people, instead of one, with each vial. of Jynneos.
Under this so-called “dose-sparing” approach, doctors and others would use a shallower injection under the skin, rather than the subcutaneous injection currently recommended on the vaccine label.
Califf said a decision authorizing that approach could come “in a few days.”
That would require another declaration, to allow the government to modify its guidelines on how to administer the vaccine, officials said.
Health officials pointed to a study published in 2015 that found the Jynneos vaccine administered that way was just as effective at boosting the immune system as when the needle penetrates deeper into other tissue.
But experts have also acknowledged that they are still gathering information on how well conventional administration of one or two full doses works against the outbreak.
Other health organizations have made statements similar to the one issued by HHS.
last week, the World Health Organization called monkeypox a public health emergency, with cases in more than 70 countries. A global emergency is the WHO’s highest alert level, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly communicable or deadly.
California, Illinois and New York have all made statements in the past week, as have New York City, San Francisco and San Diego County.
Declaring a national public health emergency and naming a monkeypox czar are “symbolic actions,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an infectious disease expert at Yale University.
The important thing is that the government is taking the necessary steps to control the outbreak and, if it comes down to it, have a plan on how to deal with monkeypox if it becomes endemic, he said.
Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have become infected through bites from rodents or small animals. It usually does not spread easily from person to person.
But in May a wave of unexpected cases began to emerge in Europe and the United States. More than 26,000 cases have now been reported in countries that have not traditionally seen monkeypox.

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