Baltimore Sun

US says monkeypox now an emergency

Declaratio­n frees up money, resources to fight virus

- By Zeke Miller, Mike Stobbe and Michael Balsamo

WASHINGTON — The federal government declared a public health emergency Thursday to bolster the response to the monkeypox outbreak that has infected more than 6,600 Americans.

The announceme­nt will free up money and other resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimplelike bumps on many parts of the body.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The declaratio­n by HHS comes as the Biden administra­tion has faced criticism over monkeypox vaccine availabili­ty. Clinics in major cities such as New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supply of first doses.

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

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. The people who have gotten

sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone.

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 the White House coordinato­rs to combat monkeypox.

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

“It signals the U.S. government’s seriousnes­s and purpose, and sounds a global alarm,” he said.

Under the declaratio­n, HHS can draw from 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 to seek more informatio­n from state and local health officials about who is becoming infected and who is being vaccinated. That informatio­n can be used to better understand how the outbreak is unfolding and how well the vaccine works.

Gostin said the U.S. government has been too cautious and should have declared a nationwide emergency earlier. Public health measures to control outbreaks have increasing­ly faced legal challenges in recent years, but Gostin didn’t expect that to happen with monkeypox.

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

The urgency in 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 being given to people soon after they think they were 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 are reviewing an approach that would stretch supplies by allowing health profession­als to vaccinate up to five people — instead of one — with each vial of Jynneos.

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

Califf said a decision authorizin­g that approach could come “within days.”

Health officials pointed to a study published in 2015 that found that Jynneos vaccine administer­ed that way was as effective at stimulatin­g the immune system as when the needle plunger deeper into other tissue.

But experts also have acknowledg­ed they are still gathering informatio­n on how well the convention­al administra­tion of one or two full doses works against the outbreak.

Others health organizati­ons have made similar declaratio­ns.

Last week, the World Health Organizati­on called 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 a disease is particular­ly transmissi­ble or lethal.

California, Illinois and New York have all made declaratio­ns in the last week, as have New York City, San Francisco and San Diego County.

The declaratio­n of a national public health emergency and the naming of a monkeypox czar are “symbolic actions,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University infectious diseases expert.

What’s important is that the government is taking the necessary steps to control the outbreak and — if it comes to that — to have a plan for how to deal with monkeypox if it becomes endemic, he said.

“It is a textbook case of a public health emergency. It’s not a red or a blue state issue. There is no political opposition to fighting monkeypox.”

— Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University

 ?? RICHARD VOGEL/AP ?? A visitor checks in at a pop-up monkeypox vaccinatio­n site Wednesday in West Hollywood, California.
RICHARD VOGEL/AP A visitor checks in at a pop-up monkeypox vaccinatio­n site Wednesday in West Hollywood, California.

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