It appears more likely that the Biden administration will declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency in the near future. The White House decision will follow the recent declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) that monkeypox is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The WHO declaration was made by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, even though it comes in “direct contradiction of independent review panel advice.” The WHO emergency committee on the monkeypox outbreak voted against making a PHEIC declaration before Tedros overruled that decision.
The WHO noted that while the transmission of the virus has been on the rise, it has resulted in only five deaths globally, all in African nations.
If Biden follows through with declaring monkeypox to be a U.S. public health emergency, the Department of Health and Human Services would be authorized to hire new personnel and access emergency funding to combat the outbreak.
Reported cases of monkeypox are being spread primarily through social groups of gay and bisexual men with multiple sexual partners. The group is described by HHS as “men who have sex with men” (MSM). Researchers have found that monkeypox is primarily spread through skin-on-skin contact.
As of Wednesday, around 4,600 confirmed monkeypox cases have been reported in the U.S., with 1,148 occurring in New York City alone.
HHS officials reported this week that almost 800,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine will be available for distribution shortly. Over 310,000 doses have already been distributed. However, large cities like New York and San Francisco say they cannot meet the heavy demand for the two-shot vaccine regimen.
Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health director Tom Inglesby said that his organization believes the administration should make the emergency declaration. He noted that the outbreak is not a “high threat to the general population” but has the “potential to spread to additional vulnerable communities.”
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra addressed the media on Thursday and said that more than 1.7 million doses of the vaccine are available in the U.S. stockpile. He said the agency’s goal is to “stay ahead of the virus and end this outbreak.”
He urged Americans to “remain vigilant and stay informed” to prevent further monkeypox spread. However, he did not warn gay men to abstain from sexual activity to prevent viral spread.