“Every American should pay attention to monkey pox,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters on Thursday. “It’s contagious, it’s painful and it can be dangerous.”
But Becerra said he is not ready to declare a public health emergency that would give the government a host of new authorities.
“We will continue to monitor the response,” he said. “We will weigh up any decision based on the responses.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will make monkeypox a nationally notifiable condition, has released new demographic data showing that 99 percent of cases are in people assigned to males at birth, and the majority of those who reported having sex with men. Of the cases with data on race and ethnicity, 37 percent were in non-Hispanic whites, 31 percent in Hispanic or Latino people, 27 percent in non-Hispanic black or African American people, and 4 percent in Asian people.
The secretary said it was not inevitable that monkeypox would become endemic in the United States, even though officials expect the outbreak could spread beyond men who have sex with men.
“We can’t let this get out of hand,” Becerra said. “Everyone has to do their part.”
There are many more Jynneos injections out there, a newer generation of a smallpox vaccine whose stocks are low worldwide, and the US orders 5.5 million additional doses to fill and finish from existing bulk material. By May 2023, the US expects to have nearly 7 million doses.
It is not yet known how many people in the US received one of the injections.
The government will also have the option to order more than 11 million doses of the vaccine, and they hope to do so in the future. If doses are not used, they will be added to the smallpox preparedness program, Dawn O’Connell, who leads the administration for strategic preparedness and response, told reporters on Thursday.
While the US has access to more vaccines than any other country, cities and states have not had enough to meet demand. It also has a large stock of an older vaccine, ACAM2000, which can have more serious side effects and is not widely used in the US for monkeypox.
About 16 million doses of the Jynneos vaccine are currently available worldwide, the World Health Organization said, urging countries to share supplies.
Tecovirimat, the antiviral drug used to treat the virus, is also part of the US arsenal. However, even with more than 1 million doses on hand, the drug was difficult for suppliers to prescribe, prompting the FDA to update its policy for use.
To date, less than 10,000 people have undergone the treatment.
Testing for the virus has also ramped up, with a capacity of more than 60,000 tests per week. The extensive testing — along with the ongoing spread — means the number of cases is expected to continue to rise, Becerra said.
“While this is a huge boost to vaccine availability, we know more needs to be done,” O’Connell said.