The monkeypox outbreak is a public health emergency in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services declared on Thursday, Aug. 4.
The declaration comes nearly two weeks after the World Health Organization named the global spread of the virus — which can cause painful lesions, a rash resembling pimples or blisters, and more — a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on July 23.
“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus,” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra wrote Aug. 4 on Twitter. “We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously.”
— Secretary Xavier Becerra (@SecBecerra) August 4, 2022
Now that the public health emergency was officially declared in the U.S., here is what happens now:
Increasing monkeypox vaccine distribution & more
The emergency status allows the Biden-Harris administration to speed up its response to monkeypox’s spread — including increasing vaccine distribution and production, expanding access to monkeypox treatments and having testing become “more convenient,” according to the White House.
The Administration has announced a four-part strategy to combat monkeypox, including:
- Scaling production and distribution of vaccines
- Making testing more convenient
- Expanding access to treatments
- Empowering communities impacted or at risk of contracting the virus
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 4, 2022
President Joe Biden said that the move is “critical to confronting this outbreak with the urgency it warrants,” in an Aug. 4 statement on Twitter.
There have been 7,102 monkeypox cases confirmed throughout the U.S. as of Aug. 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is roughly 6,000 more cases than just a few weeks ago, with slightly more than 1,000 cases were recorded in mid-July.
“Monkeypox can infect anyone,” Dr. Marshall Glesby, the associate chief of the division of infectious diseases at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, previously told McClatchy News.
The two vaccines currently available for monkeypox are Jynneos and ACAM2000, which has been historically used to protect against smallpox. The U.S. has an “ample” supply of ACAM2000, but it should not be given to people with certain health conditions, according to the CDC.
More than 602,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine were shipped to states and jurisdictions as of Aug. 4, HHS said in a news release. So far, 1.1 million doses have been allocated as officials work on making more available.
Critics have raised the alarm regarding monkeypox vaccine access as two cities, New York and San Francisco, said they have greater demand for the shots compared to the supply, the Associated Press reported. Both cities declared the virus a public health emergency before the nationwide declaration.
Alongside the public health emergency declaration, the Food and Drug Administration is examining different ways to distribute vaccines to affected communities such as a “new dose-sparing approach that could increase the number of doses available, up to five-fold,” according to HHS.
Additionally, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said now “CDC and state & local health departments can take critical actions more quickly and better meet the demands of this outbreak,” in an Aug. 4 statement.
How does monkeypox spread?
Dr. Glesby previously told McClatchy News that monkeypox is not “contagious the way COVID-19 is contagious,” but “close physical contact certainly can lead to transmission.”
The virus spreads after direct contact with the rashes, the bodily fluids or the “respiratory secretions” from an infected person, according to the CDC.
Additionally, the virus can be spread by touching materials and surfaces that an infected person has touched, including fabrics, bedsheets and more, the agency reports online. Monkeypox was found to live for 15 days in a patient’s home after they left it empty.
The CDC says it can also spread during intimate contact with an infected person, such as hugging, kissing and oral, anal or vaginal sex.
The WHO says that while “98% of cases so far are among men who have sex with men, anyone exposed can get monkeypox.”
It is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is spread from animals to humans, and has been identified in certain monkey species, tree squirrels, dormice and more, according to the WHO.
Worldwide, there have been 26,864 confirmed cases of monkeypox as of Aug. 4, the CDC reports.