U.S. Declares Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

The announcement comes as nationwide case counts reach 7,000

Monkeypox vaccine
Jynneos monkeypox vaccine The Washington Post / Contributor via Getty Images

The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday, freeing up more resources to combat the disease and expanding the CDC’s ability to share data, report NPR’s Will Stone and Jane Greenhalgh. 

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, the Health and Human Services secretary, during a Thursday press briefing, per NPR. 

This is the fifth national health emergency of its kind since 2001. Previous emergencies include the H1N1 outbreak, the Zika virus, the opioid epidemic and Covid-19.

As of August 4, the nationwide case count is over 7,000, per the CDC. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global health emergency last month, and New York, Illinois and California have also announced states of emergency for the outbreak. 

Critics say that the government’s response to the outbreak has been too slow, that vaccines and testing are too difficult to obtain and that the administration has not done enough to help those at higher risk, including the LGBTQ community

“We have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s cases,” Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease physician at Emory University, tells the New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Apoorva Mandavilli. “That, to me, honestly, is a failure. We were caught sleeping at the wheel.” 

While men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by the outbreak, the disease can spread to anyone who has close contact with an infected person.

“We have a responsibility to not further stigmatize or politicize this issue for a community that has long faced many issues, has long been marginalized in our community,” Tyler TerMeer, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, tells CNN’s David Culver and Elizabeth Joseph. “Dating all the way back to the earliest days of the HIV epidemic in our country, we saw our community abandoned by federal government in their response.”

Some areas are offering the vaccine to communities at higher risk. But vaccines are in short supply, and some health departments are not administering second doses, instead trying to get first doses to as many people as they can, reports Annalise Frank for Axios

Currently, two vaccines are in play: the Jynneos vaccine, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for monkeypox, and ACAM2000, a vaccine approved for smallpox which is also expected to protect against monkeypox. Those who are infected with the disease tend to have lesions and flu-like symptoms, though all cases are different.

“A declaration of this monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency is important, but more important is to step up the level of federal, state and local coordination, fill our gaps in vaccine supply and get money appropriated from Congress to address this crisis,” Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health and an adviser to the WHO on monkeypox, tells the Times. “Otherwise we’re talking about a new endemic virus sinking its roots into this country.”

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