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 as soon as Thursday in an effort to raise awareness and unlock flexibility and additional funding to fight 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 that empowers federal officials to fast-track medical countermeasures, such as potential treatments and vaccines, without going through full federal reviews. It would also allow greater 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 global health leaders. World Health Organization on 23 July declared that monkeypox was a public health emergency of international concernits highest-level warning, following confirmed outbreaks in about 70 countries where the virus has not historically spread.

Federal leaders have spent weeks debating whether monkeypox should be declared a public health emergency, and officials said Thursday’s planned announcement is part of a broader push to improve the virus. The announcement follows the White House’s decision this week to name Robert J. Fenton Jr., Jr., a longtime official at 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 been trying to strategize about it increases 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 being at the highest 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, with the vast majority among men who have sex with men — a total that has doubled about every 8 days but which experts believe is an underestimate considerable. Officials have also reported at least five cases of monkeypox in children, who are believed to have been infected through family transmission.

WHO officials last week advised men who have sex with men that temporarily reduce the number of their sexual partners in an effort to reduce transmission.

What you need 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 globally and none so far in the United States — the virus can lead to fever, lymph swelling, a rash and often painful lesions that can last for weeks and result in scarring. The virus is also linked to more severe complications in children, pregnant women and people with immune conditions.

The infectious disease, which comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox, is spread 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 is spread through other forms of contact and may circulate outside the gay community, noting a small proportion 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 bolster the country’s overall response. For example, the emergency declaration could be used to force hospitals to report more data about their monkeypox patients and enable the Food and Drug Administration to expedite medical countermeasures that might otherwise take months or years to undergo traditional regulatory reviews.

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

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

But Becerra’s decision to declare monkeypox an emergency could raise 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-Mass.) and reproductive health rights groups have also lobbied the administration to declare access to abortion a public health emergency in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision that was overturned Roe v. Wade and led to new abortion restrictions nationwide.

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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