As monkeypox continues to rise in the United States, President Biden’s health secretary plans to declare a national health emergency, possibly as early as Thursday, according to a federal official familiar with the discussions.
The statement, which many experts said was long overdue, would signal that the outbreak now poses a significant threat to Americans and trigger a variety of measures designed to reverse the tide. It would be empower federal agencies to direct the money to the development and evaluation of vaccines and drugs, to access emergency funding and to hire additional workers to help manage the outbreak, which began in May.
The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on the epidemic of July 23.
Mr Biden has come under intense pressure from activists and public health experts to act more aggressively to tackle the monkeypox outbreak. But senior federal health officials have so far resisted declaring an emergency. Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary, has repeatedly said he is considering it.
Earlier this week, however, Mr Biden appointed a former emergency response officer and respected infectious disease specialist to coordinate the White House’s monkeypox response — a sign the administration is stepping up its efforts.
The supply of the monkeypox vaccine, called Jynneos, has been severely limited and the administration has been heavily criticized for moving too slowly to increase the number of doses. Declaring an emergency would not alleviate this shortage, but the administration could take steps to allow faster access to tecovirimat, the drug recommended to treat the disease.
News of the administration’s plans was first reported by The Washington Post.
As of Wednesday, the United States had recorded nearly 7,000 cases of monkeypox, with the highest rates per capita in Washington, New York and Georgia. More than 99% of cases involve men who have sex with men.
The virus is mainly transmitted through close physical contact; the infection is rarely fatal – no deaths have been reported here – but it can be very painful. The United States has one of the highest rates in the world, and that number is expected to rise as surveillance and testing improves.
Declaring monkeypox an emergency sends “a strong message that this is important, that it needs to be addressed now,” said Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of the advisory group. of the WHO on monkeypox.
Dr. Rimoin is one of the scientific advisers who urged the WHO to categorize monkeypox as a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation the organization has used only seven times since 2007. With panelists divided on the issue, Dr. Rimoin. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, overruled advisers to declare monkeypox an emergency, a status currently held by only two other diseases, Covid-19 and poliomyelitis.
The WHO statement told member countries that they should take the outbreak seriously, devote significant resources to containing it and cooperate with other countries by sharing information, vaccines and medicines.
In the United States, demands for stronger action against monkeypox have intensified. Recently, Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, called the Biden administration intensify the manufacture and distribution of vaccines and develop a long-term strategy to fight the virus.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington state, who leads the health committee, pushed the Department of Health and Human Services to provide a detailed account of the measures it is taking to contain the outbreak.
AIDS activists, who have strongly criticized the administration, have been pushing for an emergency declaration for weeks.
“It’s too late,” said James Krellenstein, one of the founders of PrEP4All, an advocacy group. “I don’t really understand why they didn’t do it a few weeks ago.”
Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown University, described an emergency declaration as a “watershed moment in the response to monkeypox, after a lackluster start.”
The decision to declare an emergency is likely to be politically unpopular, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease physician at Emory University in Atlanta. I noticed that many members of Congress had lobbied the administration to lift the public health emergency for Covid-19.
Still, “I think it’s high time for the United States to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency,” he said.
The emergency designation would allow the The FDA authorizes measures that can diagnose, prevent, or treat monkeypox, without having to go through the usual comprehensive agency review. The agency has relied heavily on this provision to speed up testing, vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus.
Declaring an emergency also gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greater access to information from health care providers and states. Federal agencies like the CDC cannot compel states to share case or vaccination data.
During the outbreak, federal health officials routinely shared information on testing capacity or the number of vaccines shipped to states. But CDC data on the number of cases lags that of local public health departments, and the number of people vaccinated, or their demographic information, is mostly unavailable.
“We are again really challenged by the fact that we at the agency have no authority to receive this data,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at an event. recently organized by the Washington Post.
The agency is working to expand its access to state data, but until then the information is patchy and unreliable. Local health services are underfunded, understaffed and exhausted after more than two years of battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A declaration of this monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency is important, but more important is to step up the level of federal and local state coordination, close our vaccine supply gaps, and secure funds from Congress to deal with this crisis,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health and WHO adviser on monkeypox.
“Otherwise, we are talking about a new endemic virus that has its roots in this country.”