As Monkeypox spreads, the United States intends to declare a health emergency

As monkeypox continues to rise in the United States, the Biden administration plans to declare a public health emergency perhaps as soon as Thursday, according to a federal official familiar with the discussions.

The statement would signal that the outbreak now poses a significant threat to Americans and would set in motion a series of measures devised to reverse the trend. It would give federal agencies the power to speed up vaccines and drugs, access emergency funding, and hire additional workers to help manage the outbreak, which began in May.

The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency due to the outbreak on 23 July.

Supplies of the monkeypox vaccine, called Jynneos, were severely limited and the administration was sharply criticized for moving too slowly to increase the number of doses. Declaring an emergency would not alleviate this shortage, but it could allow faster access to tecovirimat, the drug recommended for the treatment of the disease.

News of the administration’s plans was first reported by the Washington Post.

As of Wednesday, the United States had recorded nearly 7,000 cases of monkeypox, with the highest per capita rates in Washington, New York and Georgia. More than 99% of cases involve men who have sex with men.

The virus is mainly transmitted during close physical contact; the infection is rarely fatal – no deaths have been reported here – but it can be very painful. The United States has some of the highest rates in the world and the number is expected to increase as surveillance and testing improves.

Declaring monkeypox an emergency sends “a strong message that this is important, which needs to be addressed now,” said Anne Rimoin, epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and member of the WHO Smallpox Advisory Committee. of the monkeys.

Dr Rimoin is one of the scientific advisors who urged WHO to classify monkeypox as a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation the organization has used only seven times since 2007.

With the speakers divided on the issue, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, overruled the advisers to declare monkeypox an emergency, a state currently held by only two other diseases, Covid-19 and polio.

The WHO statement told member countries that they should take the outbreak seriously, devote significant resources to contain it, and cooperate with other nations by sharing information, vaccines and drugs.

In the United States, calls for stronger action against monkeypox have intensified. Recently, Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, asked the Biden administration to step up the production and distribution of vaccines and develop a long-term strategy to combat the virus.

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, who heads the health committee, has urged the Department of Health and Human Services to provide a detailed account of the measures it is taking to contain the outbreak.

The decision to declare an emergency risks being politically unpopular, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease physician at Emory University in Atlanta. He noted that many in Congress have lobbied the administration to lift the public health emergency for Covid-19.

However, “I think it’s long overdue for the United States to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency,” he said.

The emergency designation would allow the FDA to authorize measures that can diagnose, prevent or treat monkeypox, without having to go through the agency’s usual comprehensive review. The agency has relied heavily on this provision to expedite coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments.

Declaring an emergency also gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greater access to information from health professionals and states. Federal agencies like the CDC cannot force states to share case or vaccination data.

During the outbreak, federal health officials regularly shared information on testing capacity or the number of vaccines shipped to states. But the CDC’s data on the number of cases was that of local public health departments and the number of people vaccinated, or their demographic information, is mostly unavailable.

“We are once again really challenged by the fact that we at the agency do not have the authority to receive that data,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an event recently hosted by the Washington Post.

The agency is working to expand its access to state data, but in the meantime, the information is inaccurate and unreliable. Local health services are underfunded, understaffed and exhausted after more than two years struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A declaration of this monkeypox epidemic as a public health emergency is important, but more important is to increase the level of federal state and local coordination, fill our vaccine supply gaps, and get money from Congress for addressing this crisis, “said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health and a WHO consultant on monkeypox.

“Otherwise we are talking about a new endemic virus that has its roots in this country”.