Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Thursday that the outbreak of monkeypox is a public health emergency, 78 days after the first case was confirmed in the United States.
The announcement will free up resources to fight the virus, including vaccines, treatments, and tracking.
“Ending the monkeypox outbreak is a critical priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. We are taking our response to the next level by declaring a public health emergency,” Becerra said in the announcement. “With today’s declaration we can further strengthen and accelerate our response further.”
The declaration comes on the heels of President Biden appointing Robert Fenton of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.
“President Biden has called on us to explore every option on the table to combat the monkeypox outbreak and protect communities at risk,” said White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton. “We are applying lessons learned from the battles we’ve fought – from COVID response to wildfires to measles and will tackle this outbreak with the urgency this moment demands.”
The administration has faced criticism for failing to act quickly to contain the virus and for not securing enough vaccines to meet the demand. The first case of monkeypox in the United States was confirmed on May 18th.
There are more than 7,100 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, according to the latest data from the CDC. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, respiratory symptoms, and a rash.
Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal, often-skin-to-skin contact, touching objects or fabrics that have been used by someone with the virus, and contact with respiratory secretions. A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks, according to the CDC.
HHS said the public health emergency declaration is part of the administration’s comprehensive strategy to combat the monkeypox outbreak. strategy includes significantly scaling the production and availability of vaccines, expanding testing capacity and making testing more convenient, reducing burdens in accessing treatments, and conducting robust outreach to stakeholders and members of the LGBTQI+ communities.
The declaration was made in concert with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) work to explore new strategies that could help get vaccines to affected communities across the country, including using new dose-sparing approach that could increase the number of doses available, up to five-fold.
The public health emergency also carries implications for data sharing with the federal government. Fifty-one jurisdictions have already signed data use agreements that will provide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with information related to vaccine administration. Declaring the outbreak an emergency may provide the justification that the remaining jurisdictions need to sign their agreements. Additionally, it provides authorities to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to collect testing and hospitalization data.
HHS said that it has shipped more than 602,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine to states and jurisdictions, an increase of 266,000 in the past week. It has also allocated 1.1 million doses to states and jurisdictions in total and is making more doses available as jurisdictions use their current supply. HHS also announced on Thursday that it has accelerated the delivery of an additional 150,000 doses to arrive in the U.S. next month. The doses, which were slated to arrive in November will now arrive in the U.S. in September.