By Jack Phillips
The Biden administration on Thursday declared a public health emergency for monkeypox in a bid to unlock funding and more powers to deal with the virus, which officials say is primarily spreading among homosexual males.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Beccera issued the declaration, saying in a Thursday conference call with reporters that the move will allow for quicker distribution of the monkeypox vaccine. Becerra was joined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf on the call.
“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox … we’re [taking] our response to the next level,” Beccera said, adding Americans should take “monkeypox seriously.”
Walensky said that the public health declaration will provide more “access to resources” and will “enable personnel to be deployed to the outbreak” in some localities. The emergency will also “further raise awareness” and encourage testing for it, she added.
In the U.S., according to Walensky, there are “1.6 to 1.7 million” people who are at the “highest risk” of contracting monkeypox. She reiterated that homosexual men, namely those who are HIV-positive, appear to have the highest chance.
It comes after officials in New York, Illinois, California, some cities, and the World Health Organization declared respective emergencies for monkeypox. The head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reportedly overruled an expert advisory committee to make the declaration on July 24, while the U.N. agency confirmed the virus is in about 70 countries outside of Africa.
Along with Tedros, the heads of various federal, state, and local health agencies have said that the large majority of cases are found among homosexual males. However, they have said that the virus is spreading among other groups, including children.
Earlier this week, the White House named Robert J. Fenton Jr., a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official, to be the monkeypox response coordinator. That move echoes one made in early 2020 to name a response coordinator to COVID-19, with the first being former Vice President Mike Pence.
What It Means
Becerra said Thursday’s declaration was done because there has been an increase of about 1,500 new monkeypox cases across the United States in the past week or so.
More than 6,600 monkeypox infections have been reported across the United States, according to the CDC’s data, though it shows no deaths have been reported so far. Only a handful of deaths from the virus have been reported outside the United States.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles and San Diego counties as well as New York City became the latest municipalities to declare local health emergencies over the virus.
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will resist declaring an emergency for monkeypox, asserting that such policies—like the mandates and lockdowns around COVID-19—are designed to create a climate of fear. It’s not clear if any other Republican governors will follow his lead.
“I’m so sick of politicians—and we saw this with COVID—trying to sow fear into the population,” DeSantis said during a news conference Wednesday. “We are not doing fear,” he added.
“You see some of these states declaring states of emergency, they’re gonna abuse those powers to restrict your freedom,” DeSantis said about new rules around monkeypox. “I guarantee to you that’s what will happen.”
The virus may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body. The United States saw its first case of the monkeypox virus confirmed on May 18 and now has over 5,800 confirmed infections.
Scientists say that mass vaccinations against monkeypox won’t be needed, and that targeted use of the available doses, along with other measures, could be enough to shut down the expanding epidemics that were recently designated by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.