The Biden administration on Thursday declared monkeypox a public health emergency in order to speed up delivery of the vaccine.
Politico first reported that the Department of Health and Human Services would make a public emergency declaration that will grant the government additional powers as more than 6,600 monkeypox infections have been reported in the United States. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra held a press briefing announcing the decision Thursday afternoon.
“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said.
“We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus,” he added. “We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”
A public emergency declaration could permit the government to access emergency funds to fight the virus, enable health authorities to collect more data about cases and vaccinations, and ramp up vaccine distribution.
The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern on July 23 — after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overruled an expert committee that recommended against an emergency declaration. Since then, New York state, California, and Illinois have issued their own emergency declarations, with New York being the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
The Biden administration’s decision comes as the virus has spread rapidly in the United States, with more than 1,200 cases reported in just the last three days. Most of the cases internationally have been reported among men who have sex with men, and public health officials have advised gay and bisexual men to limit their sexual partners to mitigate spread of the disease.
Though monkeypox is not a disease that solely infects homosexual males, health officials have raised concerns that festivals or pride parades where gay men gather and are likely to be in close personal contact could become super-spreader events.
In the U.S., 99% of monkeypox cases were reported among men, according to HHS. The average patient is about 35 years old, but people of all ages can be infected. There have been five cases found in children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of the virus include a painful rash, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Some patients may also experience chills, headache, and muscle pain.
Monkeypox is a disease that is native to parts of central and west Africa, where people may be exposed to the virus through bites or scratches from animals. The virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact, according to health officials.
HHS said last week that 338,000 monkeypox vaccine doses have been distributed as of July 28. The federal government has ordered another 5.5 million doses, which the agency said will be available by May 2023.