White House declares monkeypox a public health emergency

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.

The move comes days after several counties, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as states such as California, Illinois and New York, declared states of emergency.

“We are ready to take our response to the next level in tackling this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and take responsibility for helping us tackle this virus,” Xavier Becerra, Minister of Health and Human Services, said during a briefing with officials and the media. .

Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox, although sometimes the symptoms are milder. It is most common 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, scabies or body fluids, or by touching The clothing or bedding a person uses. A person infected with the virus. Public health officials have reported that at least five children and a pregnant woman in the United States have contracted the virus.

The decision to declare a national emergency, which has been under consideration for several weeks, would allow federal agencies to direct more funding toward developing and testing vaccines and other drugs, unlock emergency funding reserves, and enable the hiring of additional workers to help manage the outbreak. .

But the administration, Becerra said, is currently deferring a second emergency order that would help expedite other potential treatments and vaccines, which under that declaration no longer have to undergo the usual federal reviews.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency on July 23, and some state officials have done the same, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, who issued a statewide declaration of emergency on Monday.

“California is working urgently across all levels of government to slow the spread of monkeypox, leveraging our robust testing, contact tracing and community partnerships strengthened during the pandemic to ensure our focus on vaccines, treatment and awareness is most at risk,” he said in a statement.

More than 1,300 cases of monkeypox have been assumed or confirmed in California, according to the latest California Department of Public Health data as of Thursday. The state reported that 98.3% of these cases were confirmed in men, most of whom are considered part of the LGBTQ community.

More than two-thirds of the state’s total infections have been reported in Los Angeles County and San Francisco. Presumed or confirmed cases in Los Angeles County — 478 as of Thursday — are up 56% in the past week. In San Francisco, which reported 397 cases as of Wednesday — infections are up 35% from the previous week.

Earlier this week, Biden appointed Robert J. Fenton Jr., a longtime FEMA official, to coordinate the national response to the virus.

Fenton, who also spoke during Thursday’s briefing, pledged “that we will spare no effort in our efforts to combat this virus.” But he said the speed with which the virus has spread is a challenge.

“This is a unique outbreak, and it is spreading faster than previous outbreaks,” he said.

Prior to April, monkeypox was rarely reported outside of Africa, where it is endemic. But a study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the infection was diagnosed in 16 countries between April 27 and June 24. Within a month, the World Health Organization described the outbreak, which at the time had spread to 70 countries, as an “exceptional” situation.

In the United States, more than 6,600 cases have been confirmed since May 18, most of them among gay men. Most experts believe that these numbers greatly underestimate the actual spread of the virus.

A week ago, Becerra indicated that the government had done everything it could to respond to the outbreak.

“We believe we have done everything we can at the federal level to work with our state, local partners and affected communities to make sure we can stay on top of this and end the outbreak,” he said in a statement on July 28.

At the time, federal leaders announced plans to distribute 780,000 rounds of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine, the only monkeypox vaccine currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Doses are assigned to states and cities based on the number of cases and the size of the population at risk.

Currently, the government is reported to be running short of supplies on its stockpile of Jynneos. Although officials have said about 1.6 million Americans are at high risk of developing monkeypox, the United States has only enough doses of Jynneos to fully vaccinate 550,000 individuals.

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.

Times staff writer Taryn Luna contributed to this report.

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