US declares public health emergency over monkeypox outbreak

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government declared a public health emergency on Thursday to bolster the response to the monkeypoxepidemic which has infected more than 7,100 Americans.

The announcement will free 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 to fight this virus, and we urge all Americans to take monkeypox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. .

The HHS statement comes as the Biden administration has faced criticism over the availability of the monkeypox vaccine. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they have not received enough two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supplies of firsts. doses.

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

The monkeypox virus is spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugs, hugs, and kisses, as well as sharing bedding, towels, and clothing. The people who have fallen ill so far have mostly been men who have sex with men. But health officials point out that the virus can infect anyone.

No one in the United States died. A few deaths have been reported in other countries.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration named top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as White House coordinators for monkeypox.

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

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

Under the statement, HHS can draw on emergency funds, hire or reassign staff to deal with the outbreak and take other steps to control the virus.

For example, the announcement should help the federal government request more information from state and local health officials about who is infected and who is vaccinated. This information can be used to better understand the course of the outbreak and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Gostin said the US government had been overly cautious and should have declared a national emergency sooner. Public health measures to control outbreaks have increasingly faced legal challenges in recent years, but Gostin never expected that to happen with monkeypox.

“This is a textbook case of public health emergency,” Gostin said. “It’s not a red or blue state problem. There is no political opposition to the fight against monkeypox.

A public health emergency can be protracted, like 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, given 28 days apart, are currently given to people soon after they think they have been exposed, as a measure to prevent symptoms.

Becerra announced the emergency declaration during a call with reporters. During the call, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf said regulators were looking at an approach that would stretch supplies by allowing healthcare professionals to vaccinate up to five people — instead of one. one – with each bottle of Jynneos.

Under this so-called “dose-saving” approach, doctors and others would use a shallower injection under the skin, instead of the subcutaneous injection currently recommended in vaccine labeling.

Califf said a decision allowing the approach could come “in days.”

That would require another statement, to allow the government to change its guidelines on how to administer the vaccine, officials said.

Health officials pointed to a study published in 2015 that found the Jynneos vaccine given in this way was as effective at boosting the immune system as when the needle plunger goes deeper into other tissues.

But experts also acknowledged that they were still collecting information on the effectiveness of conventional administration of one or two full doses against the epidemic.

Other health organizations have made statements similar to the one issued by HHS.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency, with cases in more than 70 countries. A global emergency is WHO’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean that a disease is particularly communicable or deadly.

California, Illinois and New York all issued statements last week, as did New York, 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 is important is that the government take the necessary steps to control the outbreak and, if necessary, have a plan on how to deal with monkeypox if it becomes endemic, he said.

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

But in May, a wave of unexpected cases began to emerge in Europe and the United States. Today, more than 26,000 cases have been reported in countries that have traditionally not seen monkeypox.

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Stobbe reported from New York. Matthew Perrone, Associated Press Health editor, contributed to this report.

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