Biden administration considers public health emergency

A Northwell Health employee holds a monkey smallpox vaccine, at Cherry Grove on Fire Island, New York, where the monkeypox vaccine was given on July 14, 2022.

James Carbone | News | beautiful pictures

A senior White House health official says the Biden administration is considering declaring a public health emergency in response to a growing monkeypox outbreak, a health official said. senior White House said Friday.

Dr Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, said the administration was looking at how a public health emergency declaration could boost the US response to the outbreak.

“There is no final decision on this that I know of,” Jha said. “It’s an ongoing, but very active conversation at HHS.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has the authority to declare a public health emergency under the Public Health Services Act. A declaration could help mobilize federal financial assistance to respond to the outbreak.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2,500 cases of monkeypox have been reported across 44 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. The largest outbreaks have been in New York, California, Illinois, Florida, DC and Georgia.

The Biden administration’s response to the outbreak has been closely watched by Congress as infections rise. Fifty House Democrats, in a letter to President Joe Biden this week, called on the administration to declare a public health emergency in response to the outbreak.

Senate Health Committee Chair Patty Murray, in a letter to HHS Secretary Becerra, said she was worried about the US response to the outbreak. Murray said some patients and healthcare providers don’t have the information and resources they need to test for monkeypox and respond to the outbreak.

Last week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said demand for the vaccine is outstripping existing supply. Many are struggling to get vaccinated amid long lines of outside clinics.

To date, the US has shipped more than 300,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, known as Jynneos, to city and state health departments, Jha told reporters. The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of authorizing an additional 786,000 doses stored at the Bavarian Nordic manufacturer’s facility in Denmark for distribution in the US.

Jha said some of the photos have already started shipping and will arrive in the US this week and next. The doses can be shipped to city and state health departments once FDA approval is complete, Jha said. The US has also ordered another 5 million doses to be delivered by mid-2023, according to HHS.

Monkeypox is mainly spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex. Currently, men who have sex with men are most at risk of infection, but anyone can get the virus through close contact. People usually recover in two to four weeks, but the virus that causes the lesions can be very painful. No deaths reported in the US

The CDC on Friday confirmed the first two cases of monkeypox in children. One case is a toddler in California, and the other is an infant who is not a US resident. According to the CDC, the cases are not related and the children are likely to contract the virus through family transmission.

Both children are in good health and are being treated with the antiviral drug tecovirimat, according to the CDC. Jennifer McQuiston, a CDC official, told reporters Friday that the health agency is working to make it easier for clinicians to prescribe tecovirimat to patients.

Prescribing tecovirimat for monkeypox comes with an extra layer of bureaucracy right now because it’s only been approved by the FDA for smallpox. Monkeypox is in the same family of viruses as smallpox, but it causes a milder illness.

McQuiston said more than 97% of monkeypox patients who provided demographic information were gay, bisexual or other men who had sex with men.

“Although this outbreak is spreading across a particular social network right now, I think we’ve communicated from the start that there may be cases outside of those networks and we need to have to be alert to it and be ready to respond and text about it,” McQuiston told reporters.

According to the CDC, the US has the capacity to conduct 80,000 smallpox tests in monkeys a week after launching several commercial labs this month. But the tests scan for lesions caused by the virus, which can take weeks from initial exposure to develop. This means that the US may not have an accurate picture of the number of people infected because patients can only get tested when symptoms develop.

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