US declares state of emergency over rapid spread of monkey pox

The US government has declared a public health emergency in response to the spread of monkeypox in a move that will give federal health agencies additional funds and powers to fight the virus.

The decision comes amid mounting criticism of the Biden government’s response to the outbreak, which health experts say has led to delays in testing and shortages of available vaccines.

Government data released Wednesday shows that the US is responsible for about a quarter of 25,054 reported worldwide infections from the virus, which spreads through skin-to-skin contact and is mostly found in West and Central Africa.

In recent months, outbreaks of monkeypox have occurred in countries around the world where the disease is typically not found, mostly among men who have sex with men.

“We are ready to take our response to the next level in tackling this virus and we urge every American to take monkey pox seriously,” US Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra said at a briefing Thursday.

US officials said the emergency statement would expand access to testing, treatments and data sharing with states to help monitor the spread of the disease across the country.

Health officials said they were in talks with drug companies to expand access to vaccines and treatments. They also considered implementing a “dose sharing” approach for the Jynneos vaccine – the only available injection to inoculate against monkeypox – that would allow doctors to administer up to five injections from a single dose vial.

“It is important to know that the overall safety and efficacy profile will not be sacrificed with this approach,” said Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The US has distributed approximately 600,000 of the 1.1 million Jynneos vaccines in its stock to healthcare providers for administration. It has the capacity to conduct 80,000 monkey pox tests per week, officials say.

Last week, the World Health Organization classified the global monkeypox outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern,” putting it on a par with diseases such as Covid-19, Ebola and polio.

New York, California and Illinois have already declared states of emergency as long lines of people have gathered outside clinics handing out monkeypox vaccines.

Monkeypox usually causes fever and skin lesions, but usually clears up on its own without treatment. However, in rare cases, it can lead to medical complications and even death. Babies, children, and people with underlying immune deficiencies are most at risk.

Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the US response was reactive rather than proactive and welcomed the emergency statement.

“The main value of the statement is that it will enable the government to act more nimbly, devoid of all the bureaucracy and bureaucracy that has characterized the response to the outbreak thus far,” he said.

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