The health secretary is also considering a second statement that would authorize federal officials to expedite medical countermeasures, such as potential treatments and vaccines, without having to go through extensive federal reviews. It would also allow for greater flexibility in administering the current supply of vaccines, Becerra said.
The government’s announcement follows similar decisions by public health officials in New York, California and Illinois, as well as leading public health officials around the world. The World Health Organization on July 23 declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, its highest alert, after confirmed outbreaks in about 70 countries where the virus has not historically spread.
Ask The Post: What are your questions about monkeypox?
Health officials also said Thursday they were taking steps to increase access to Jynneos, the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against the virus through a two-dose regimen. Federal officials have identified about 1.6 million people as being at highest risk for monkeypox, but the US has only received enough doses of Jynneos to fully cover about 550,000 people. Officials said they had rushed another 150,000 doses of Jynneos, which should arrive in September, and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told reporters that a “dose-saving” plan was being seriously considered.
“We are considering an approach … that would allow healthcare providers to use an existing single-dose vial of the vaccine to administer up to five separate doses in total,” Califf said, adding that the plan “looked good” and will be in the completed in the next few days.
Federal leaders had debated for weeks whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, and officials said Thursday’s planned announcement was part of a broader push to contain the virus. The announcement follows the White House’s decision this week to appoint Robert J. Fenton Jr., a longtime Federal Emergency Management Agency official, as coordinator of the national response to the virus.
“This public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly to affected communities. And it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track and combat this outbreak,” Fenton said Thursday.
Thursday’s announcements were hailed by President Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill, including Home Oversight Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), who had urged the administration to declare an emergency.
“This critical step will allow the Biden administration to build on the progress already made to expand the availability of vaccines, tests and treatments nationwide,” Maloney said in a statement.
But public health experts called Thursday’s announcement overdue and said the emergency declaration has long been needed to accelerate more funding and flexibility.
“It’s about time,” David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, said in a statement. “With this statement, the administration must act quickly to allocate funding to state and local health departments for … clinical services” to combat monkeypox.
The top Republican on the Senate Health Committee said the Biden administration failed to take quick action to contain the virus.
“I have been amazed at the extent to which administration seems decoupled from local realities for healthcare providers, public health workers and, most importantly, patients,” wrote Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.). in a letter to Becerra, in which he called the government’s response “a devastating public health failure.”
Since May 18, more than 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United States, with the vast majority occurring in men who have sex with men — a total that has been doubling about every eight days, but a significant undercount, according to experts is. Officials have also reported at least five cases of monkeypox in children believed to have contracted it through household transmission.
WHO officials Last week advised men who have sex with men to temporarily reduce the number of their sex partners to reduce transmission.
What you should know about monkeypox symptoms, treatments and protections
While health officials have emphasized that monkeypox poses far fewer risks than the coronavirus — with only a handful of deaths worldwide and none in the United States to date — the virus can lead to fever, swollen lymph nodes, a rash, and often painful lesions that can last for weeks and weeks lead to scarring. The virus is also associated with more severe complications in children, pregnant women, and people with immune disorders.
The infectious disease, which comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox, spreads primarily through close contact, and experts say they believe skin-to-skin exposure during sexual activity is a major source of transmission in the current outbreak. However, they warn that the virus can spread through other forms of touch and circulate outside of the gay and bisexual communities, noting a handful of cases among women and children.
Some Biden officials had previously argued that declaring an emergency for monkeypox would draw attention to the growing outbreak and strengthen the nation’s overall response. For example, the emergency declaration can be used to force hospitals to report more data on their monkeypox patients and allow the Food and Drug Administration to expedite medical countermeasures that might otherwise take months or years to undergo traditional regulatory reviews. Many public health experts had also reiterated the WHO’s decision to declare a public health emergency, saying that a coordinated global response was “essential” to fight back the growing outbreak.
Federal officials also distributed an “options memo” on Thursday about how a public health emergency would improve the nation’s response to monkeypox, according to two officials who were not authorized to comment. POLITICO was the first to report the memo’s existence.
Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said declaring a public health emergency could help identify more potential monkeypox cases that are likely to go undetected.
“We need to make everyone aware of what this disease looks like – and make everyone aware that they need to be tested for it. Or we’ll continue to have invisible chains of transmission,” said Inglesby, who also oversaw the coronavirus testing effort for the Biden administration before leaving the White House earlier this year.
But Becerra’s decision to declare monkeypox an emergency could pose political complications for the White House, which has been urged by advocates to declare gun violence a public health emergency and climate change a national emergency. Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and reproductive health groups have also lobbied for the government to declare access to abortion a public health emergency after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling was overturned Roe v. calf and led to new nationwide abortion restrictions across the country.
The Biden administration has also continued to renew public health emergency declarations for opioids and the coronavirus, which expire every 90 days.