Biden Administration: Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

The Biden Administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra issued a statement announcing the emergency: “In light of evolving circumstances on the ground, I am declaring a public health emergency on #monkeypox. We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously.”

A public health emergency declaration can open up more resources and trigger grant funding for various aspects of a federal response. It also allows Secretary Becerra to enter into contracts for necessary medical equipment and supplies, and treatments, among other things. 

Center for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said the declaration would expand the CDC’s ability to share data, provide resources, and increase access to care. A public health emergency declaration can also be extended, similar to the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, the monkeypox outbreak has infected more than 6,600 Americans. The declaration of a public health emergency frees up resources and federal money to fight the virus, which can cause body aches, fatigue, fever, chills, and pimple-like bumps on many body parts. 

Most cases in the United States are concentrated in the queer and gay community, primarily among gay men. Most cases appear to have been passed through sexual contact during the current outbreak. However, spreading the virus in other ways, including touching a contaminated surface and through face-to-face interactions, is possible. The virus spreads quickly through sharing towels, clothing, and bedding and prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact.

Scientists also examine evidence suggesting the virus can be spread through semen.

Administration focused on vaccines, testing

Following the announcement, President Biden tweeted that he remains “committed to our monkeypox response; ramping-up vaccine distribution, expanding testing and educating at-risk communities. That’s why today’s public health emergency declaration on the virus is critical to confronting this outbreak with the urgency it warrants.”

According to the White House, more than 1.1 million vaccine doses have been made available and domestic diagnostic capacity has been boosted to 80,000 tests per week. 

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated monkeypox a public health emergency, with diagnosed cases in more than 70 countries. While a global emergency is the highest level of alert by the WHO, the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly lethal or transmissible.

Illinois, New York, and California have all made declarations in the past week, along with San Diego County, New York City, and San Francisco.

The Biden administration recently named top officials from the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to serve as White House coordinators to combat the outbreak of monkeypox. 

While the focus of the administration’s response to the outbreak has been to vaccinate high-risk individuals, however, critics say vaccine availability has been slow to come online and been limited. The Biden administration says it has already made more than one million doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine available across the country and in U.S. territories.