Biden officials plan to declare monkeypox a public health emergency

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The Biden administration plans to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Thursday in an effort to raise awareness and unlock additional flexibility and funding to combat the spread of the virus.

The statement would come from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is expected to discuss the plan at an afternoon briefing, said two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment. The health secretary is planning a second declaration authorizing federal officials to speed up medical countermeasures, such as potential treatments and vaccines, without going through full federal reviews. That would also allow more flexibility in how the current vaccine supply is administered, officials said.

The administration’s announcement follows similar decisions by health officials in New York, California and Illinois and world health leaders. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, its highest-level warning, following confirmed outbreaks in some 70 countries where the virus has not historically spread. .

Federal leaders have spent weeks debating whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, and officials said Thursday’s planned announcement is part of a broader push to contain the virus. The announcement follows the White House’s decision this week to name Robert J. Fenton Jr., Jr., a former official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as coordinator of the national response to the virus.

HHS and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

US officials have scrambled to find strategies to increase access to monkeypox treatments and vaccines, with a limited supply of Jynennos, the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against the virus. Federal officials have identified about 1.6 million people as most at risk for monkeypox, but the US has only received enough doses of Jyennos to fully cover about 550,000 people.

More than 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United States since May 18, the vast majority among men who have sex with men, a total that has doubled about every 8 days, but which experts believe is a significantly lower count. Authorities also reported at least five cases of monkeypox in children, who are believed to have been infected through domestic transmission.

WHO officials last week it advised men who have sex with men to temporarily reduce their number of sexual partners in a bid to reduce transmission.

What to know about monkeypox symptoms, treatments and protection

While health officials have emphasized that monkeypox poses far fewer risks than the coronavirus, with only a handful of deaths worldwide and none to date in the United States, the virus can cause fever, inflammation of the lymph nodes, rash, and often painful lesions that can last for weeks and result in scarring. The virus is also linked to more serious complications in children, pregnant women, and people with immune problems.

The infectious disease, which comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox, spreads primarily through close contact, and experts say they believe skin-to-skin exposure during sexual activity is a major source of transmission in the current outbreak. But they warn that the virus spreads through other forms of contact and can circulate outside the gay community, pointing to a handful of cases in women and children.

Some Biden officials have previously argued that declaring a monkeypox emergency would draw attention to the growing outbreak and strengthen the nation’s overall response. For example, the emergency declaration can be used to force hospitals to report more data about their monkeypox patients and allow the Food and Drug Administration to expedite medical countermeasures that might otherwise take months or years. to undergo traditional regulatory reviews.

Federal officials also distributed an “options memorandum” Thursday on how a public health emergency would improve the nation’s response to monkeypox, according to two officials who were not authorized to comment. POLITICO first reported the existence of the memo.

Many public health experts have also affirmed the WHO’s decision to declare a public health emergency, saying a coordinated global response is “essential” to combat the growing outbreak. House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.) last week called on HHS to declare a public health emergency, calling the move “a crucial next step” to combat the spread of the virus. virus.

But Becerra’s decision to declare monkeypox an emergency could create political complications for the White House, which has faced calls from advocates to declare gun violence a public health emergency and climate change a national emergency. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and reproductive health rights groups have also pushed the administration to declare abortion access a public health emergency in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe vs. Wade and led to new restrictions on abortion across the country.

The Biden administration has also continued to renew public health emergency declarations, which expire every 90 days, for opioids and the coronavirus.

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