Monkeypox is ‘a public health emergency,’ U.S. health secretary declares

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Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency on Thursday in an effort to galvanize awareness and unlock additional flexibility and funding to fight the virus’s spread.

“We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus,” Becerra said at a Thursday news briefing.

The health secretary is also considering a second declaration empowering federal officials to expedite medical countermeasures, such as potential treatments and vaccines, without going through full-fledged federal reviews. That would also allow for greater flexibility in how the current supply of vaccines is administered, Becerra said.

Federal officials Thursday afternoon said they were still finalizing the formal declaration of a public health emergency, which would be posted on an HHS webpage.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23. Here’s what you need to know about how it spreads. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: CDC/The Washington Post)

The administration’s announcement follows similar decisions by health officials in New York, California and Illinois and global health leaders. The World Health Organization on July 23 declared that monkeypox was a public health emergency of international concern, its highest-level warning, after confirmed outbreaks in about 70 countries where the virus has not historically spread.

Ask The Post: What are your questions about monkeypox?

Health officials Thursday also said they were taking steps to improve access to Jynneos, the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against the virus through a two-dose regimen. Federal officials have identified about 1.6 million people as highest risk for monkeypox, but the U.S. has only received enough Jynneos doses to fully cover about 550,000 people. Officials said that they had expedited an additional 150,000 doses of Jynneos to arrive in September, and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told reporters that a “dose-sparing” plan was under serious consideration.

“We’re considering an approach … that would allow health care providers to use an existing one-dose vial of the vaccine to administer a total of up to five separate doses,” said Califf, adding that the plan was “looking good” and would be finalized in the coming days.

Federal leaders had spent weeks debating whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency, and officials said that Thursday’s planned announcement is part of a broader push to contain the virus. The announcement follows the White House’s decision this week to name Robert J. Fenton Jr., a longtime official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the coordinator of the national response to the virus.

“This public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities. And it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track and attack this…

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