The Biden administration on Thursday declared the monkeypox outbreak a national public health emergency in an effort to raise awareness and accelerate efforts to combat it.
“We are ready to take our response to the next level to fight this virus, and we urge all Americans to take monkeypox seriously and take responsibility for helping us fight this virus,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Ministry of Health and Health. Human services, during a briefing with officials and the media.
The decision, which has been under consideration for several weeks, will allow federal agencies to allocate more funds to the development and testing of vaccines and other drugs, release emergency funding reserves, and enable the hiring additional workers to help manage the outbreak.
But the administration, Becerra said, is for now suspending a second emergency order that would help expedite other potential treatments and vaccines, which under such a statement would no longer have to go through the usual federal examinations.
Currently, the government would be undersupplied in its stockpile of Jynneos, the only monkeypox vaccine currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Although officials have said about 1.6 million Americans are at high risk for monkeypox, the United States only has enough doses of Jynneos to fully inoculate 550,000 people.
The national vaccine stockpile will increase by an additional 150,000 doses in September, according to Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS.
The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency on July 23, and some state officials have followed suit, including the governor of California. Gavin Newsom, who issued a statewide emergency declaration on Monday.
Earlier this week, Biden named Robert J. Fenton Jr.a longtime official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate the national response to the virus.
Fenton, who also spoke at Thursday’s briefing, vowed to “leave no stone unturned in our efforts to combat this virus”. But the speed at which the virus has spread, he said, is a challenge.
“This is a unique outbreak and it is spreading faster than previous outbreaks,” he said.
Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox, although symptoms are sometimes milder. It is spreading widely among men who have sex with men as well as transgender and non-binary people, although health officials warn that anyone can contract the virus through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs or bodily fluids, or by touching clothing or bedding used by someone with the virus.
Nearly 800 cases have been confirmed in California, according to the most recent data from the California Department of Public Health. The state reported that 98.3% of those cases were confirmed in men, the majority of whom identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
Nationally, more than 6,600 cases have been confirmed since May 18, also mostly among gay men. Most experts believe that these figures greatly underestimate the current spread of the virus.
Testing capacity, Becerra said, has increased to 80,000 tests per week, a figure that is expected to continue to rise.
Times editor Taryn Luna contributed to this report.