Editor’s note: This is a breaking news story. Please return for updates.
Aug. 4, 2022 – The White House declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday. There have been over 6,600 reported cases of the disease in the United States, up from less than 5,000 cases reported last week.
“This public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities. And it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track and attack this outbreak,” Robert Fenton, who was named as the national monkeypox response coordinator this week, said at a news briefing Thursday.
Monkeypox is a virus like smallpox. Those who catch the virus usually have fever-like symptoms, followed by red lesions on the body that can raise and develop pus. Those at highest risk of monkeypox are gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with other men. There are between 1.6 million and 1.7 million Americans in this high-risk group, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said at the briefing.
The Jynneos vaccine is being distributed to protect against monkeypox and can prevent severe symptoms. It’s mostly going to those with the greatest risk of catching the virus.
Last week, the Biden administration made over 1.1 million doses of the 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 doses were shipped this week. States will be able to order more doses beginning Aug. 15. If a state has used 90% or more of its vaccine supply, it will be eligible to order more doses before Aug. 15, according to Dawn O’Connell, JD, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. 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 says.
The administration is also stressing the importance of monkeypox testing and says it can now distribute 80,000 monkeypox tests per week.
An antiviral drug – known as TPOXX – is also available treat severe cases of monkeypox. Around 1,700,000 treatments are 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.
The White House says it will continue reaching out to doctors, public health partners, LGBTQ advocates, and other impacted communities.
“The public health emergency further raises awareness about monkeypox, which will encourage clinicians to test for it,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD said at the briefing.
This week, President Joe Biden appointed a new White House monkeypox response team. Besides Fenton as the response coordinator, Demetre Daskalakis, MD, will serve as the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator. He 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 Thursday. “That’s why the president asked me to explore everything we can do to combat monkeypox and protect communities at risk.”