As More Monkeypox Cases Pop Up, the Biden Administration is Ramping Up Its Testing And Vaccine Strategy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also activated its emergency response center.
The Biden administration says it is “rapidly expanding” access to vaccines for monkeypox, as part of a new strategy to counter the outbreak as reported cases in the United States have now topped 300.
The new strategy, released on Tuesday evening, is aimed at vaccinating and protecting those most at risk for monkeypox, prioritizing bringing vaccines to areas that have the highest number of cases, and giving state, local, territorial and tribal health offices guidance for their response efforts. As of Tuesday, there have been over 4,700 monkeypox cases detected globally and 306 cases in the United States across 28 jurisdictions. The first reported case domestically for the current outbreak was identified in Massachusetts in May.
“This is not a novel virus. Unlike COVID of two years ago, monkeypox is a virus that’s been around forever” and the “good news” is that there haven’t been any deaths so far, Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, who has been working on the monkeypox response the last few weeks, said on a briefing call. “Now, with any disease outbreak, there’s lot of unknowns and this outbreak requires both vigilance as well as a comprehensive approach.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that individuals who have been exposed to monkeypox and were contacted by public health officials as well as those who were exposed recently, but weren’t identified through contact tracing, receive vaccines.
Under the new strategy, the Health and Human Services Department is "rapidly expanding” access to vaccines and will be making available “hundreds of thousands of doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine for prophylactic use against monkeypox in areas with the highest transmission and need, using a tiered allocation system,” said a press release from HHS. “Jurisdictions can also request shipments of the ACAM2000 vaccine, which is in much greater supply, but due to significant side effects is not recommended for everyone.”
Specifically, HHS will be allocating 296,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine over the next few weeks, of which 56,000 will be allocated immediately. Over the summer, HHS anticipates more than 750,000 additional doses to be made available and another 500,000 doses will go through completion, inspection and release in the fall. So far, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, along with the CDC, has responded to requests from 32 jurisdictions and has sent out 9,000 vaccine doses and 300 treatments.
As for testing, last week, HHS began shipping tests to five commercial laboratory companies (Aegis Science, LabCorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare) to increase testing capacity for monkeypox. This builds on the capacity of CDC’s “public health Laboratory Response Network,” which the agency, along with the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response have been working to expand the capacity of.
“Let me be very clear, we have plenty of testing capacity and we will continue to both expand that testing capacity…and we’re going to continue to make it easier and easier for clinicians to access that capacity,” said Jha.
Another key component of the Biden administration's monkeypox strategy is sharing guidance with local governments and community leaders on testing, treatments, vaccines and how to prevent transmission, especially for those communities most at risk. “The administration is grateful for the leadership and activism of advocates in the LGBTQI+ community who have thus far been most affected and have quickly mobilized to promote information and awareness,” said the White House in a fact sheet.
Additionally, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on the call the agency has activated its “emergency operations center” to boost its monitoring and coordinating of the outbreak, and to “mobilize additional personnel and resources.”
Government Executive asked HHS if it has any concerns about sufficient funds, personnel or other resources for monkeypox while the department and its sub-agencies are also responding to the coronavirus pandemic and running low on funds.
“HHS is using existing program dollars to support monkeypox activities and leveraging the work and progress that the department has made previously in addressing monkeypox and similar viruses such as smallpox including the development of a vaccine,” said an HHS spokesperson. “HHS continues to closely monitor the evolving monkeypox situation including activities that can be supported within the department’s base programs which also support other response activities.”
The World Health Organization said over the weekend that monkeypox is not a global public health emergency yet, but WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement he is “deeply concerned by the spread of monkeypox” and “this is evolving health threat that my colleagues and I in the WHO Secretariat are following extremely closely.”