White House Declares Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

Kelly Wairimu Davis, MS

August 04, 2022

August 4, 2022 — US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared monkeypox a public health emergency today. There have been more than 6600 reported cases of monkeypox in the United States, up from fewer than 5000 cases reported last week.

Monkeypox is a virus that is similar to smallpox. Those who catch the virus usually experience fever-like symptoms, followed by red lesions on the body, which can raise and develop pus. In the current outbreak, the infection is spreading primarily among gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with men. There are between 1.6 and 1.7 million Americans in this high-risk group, Becerra said during a press briefing.

The Jynneos vaccine is being distributed to protect against severe illness from monkeypox and is primarily being given to those with the greatest risk of catching the virus.

The most significant new development is that the US Food and Drug Administration is considering a recommendation that the vaccine be administered as an intradermal injection, which is when a small needle between layers of skin creates a pocket where the vaccine will go. A much smaller dose — one fifth of the regular dose — is needed for intradermal injections, allowing the limited number of Jynneos doses to go further.

Last week, the Biden administration made over 1.1 million doses of Jynneos vaccine available — of which, over 600,000 doses have already been distributed across the country — and have secured over 6.9 million Jynneos doses altogether.

Around 786,000 vaccines have already been allocated, and the first ordered doses were shipped earlier this week. States will be able to order more doses beginning August 15. If a state has used 90% or more of its vaccine supply, they will be eligible to order more doses before that date, according to Dawn O'Connell, JD, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the US Department of Health and Human Services.

An additional 150,000 doses will be added to the national stockpile in September, with more doses to come later this year, O'Connell said.

The administration is also stressing the importance of monkeypox testing and says that it currently has the capacity to distribute 80,000 monkeypox tests per week.

An antiviral drug, known as TPOXX, is also available to treat severe cases of monkeypox. Around 1,700,000 of treatments are currently available in the strategic national stockpile, public health officials say.

"We are prepared to take our response to the next level, and we urge every American to take this seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus," Becerra told reporters at the press briefing.

The White House says it will continue working with clinicians, public health partners, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and other affected communities for ongoing outreach efforts.

"The public health emergency further raises awareness about monkeypox, which will encourage clinicians to test for it," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing.

This week, President Biden appointed a new White House monkeypox response team. Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Administrator Robert Fenton will serve as the White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator and Demetre Daskalakis, MD, will serve as the White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator. Daskalakis is the director of the CDC's Division of HIV Prevention.

"This virus is moving fast. This is a unique outbreak that is spreading faster than previous outbreaks," Fenton told reporters. "That's why the president asked me to explore everything we can do to combat monkeypox and protect communities at risk."

More developments to come.

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