US declares state of emergency over monkey pox outbreak

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government declared a public health emergency on Thursday to override the response to the monkeypoxoutbreak which has infected more than 6,600 Americans.

The announcement frees up money and other resources to fight the virus, which can cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

“We are ready to take our response to the next level in tackling this virus, and we urge every American to take monkey pox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS’s statement comes as the Biden administration has come under criticism for the availability of monkeypox vaccines. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they haven’t gotten enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to allow for delivery of the first doses. to ensure.

The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses available and helped increase its domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling, and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels, and clothing. The people who have gotten sick so far are mainly men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize 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 fight monkey pox.

Thursday’s statement is an important — and overdue — step, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University.

“It signals the seriousness and purpose of the US government and sounds a global alarm,” he said.

According to the statement, HHS may draw on emergency funds, hire or reassign staff to deal with the outbreak and take other steps to contain the virus.

For example, the announcement should help the federal government seek more information from state and local health officials about who gets infected and who gets 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 nationwide emergency earlier. Public health measures to control outbreaks have faced increasing legal challenges in recent years, but Gostin did not expect this to happen with monkeypox.

“It’s a textbook example of a public health emergency,” Gostin said. “It’s not a question of red or blue. There is no political opposition to the fight against monkey pox.”

A public health emergency could be extended, 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, 28 days apart, are currently given to people shortly after they believe they have been exposed, as a measure to prevent symptoms.

Becerra made the emergency statement known during a conversation with reporters. 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.

In this so-called “dose-sparing” approach, doctors and others would use a shallower injection under the skin, rather than the subcutaneous injection currently recommended in vaccine labeling.

Califf said a decision authorizing that approach could come “within days.”

That would require a new statement so the government can change its guidelines for administering the vaccine, officials said.

Health officials pointed to a study published in 2015 that found the Jynneos vaccine administered in this way was as effective at boosting the immune system as when the needle plunger poked 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 is working against the outbreak.

Other health organizations have made statements similar to those of HHS.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared 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 fatal.

California, Illinois and New York all filed charges in the past week, as did New York City, San Francisco and San Diego County.

The declaration of a national public health emergency and the appointment of a monkeypox czar are “symbolic actions,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an infectious disease expert at Yale University.

What’s important is that the government is taking the necessary steps to get the outbreak under control and — if it comes to that — to have a plan for how to deal with monkeypox if it becomes endemic, he said.

Monkeypox is endemic to parts of Africa where humans have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals. It usually does not spread easily among people.

But in May, a wave of unexpected cases started cropping up in Europe and the United States. Now, nearly 26,000 cases have been reported in countries that have traditionally not seen monkeypox.


Stobbe reported from New York City. Associated Press Health writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

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