The Biden administration and U.S. public health officials are developing a plan to use public health emergency authorities to speed up the distribution of the monkeypox vaccine, two senior administration officials and another person with knowledge of the matter told POLITICO.
A decision memo created by the Department of Health and Human Services has circulated through U.S. health agencies and secured broad support from agency heads. The memo would call monkeypox a public health emergency, according to the two senior administration officials. White House monkeypox response coordinator Robert Fenton also supports using these authorities to speed up vaccine distribution, according to a senior administration official.
Representatives for HHS and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The memo comes as more than 6,600 monkeypox infections have been reported in the United States, a number that has risen sharply over the past weeks. The rapid spread — more than 1,200 cases have been reported in the last three days — has ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to declare the outbreak a public health emergency, as critics and health experts accuse the White House of failing to mount an aggressive push to distribute treatments and vaccines.
Even as the Biden administration has pushed people who may be at risk to get vaccinated, shortages have been reported across the country, especially in New York, the epicenter of the country's outbreak.
HHS announced last week that it expects to ship an additional 800,000 vaccine doses in the coming weeks, though health experts anticipate that will still be well short of the supply needed to contain the outbreak.
The World Health Organization on July 23 declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. Since then, California, Illinois and New York have declared their own states of emergencies.
Federal health officials in recent weeks had debated whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency. Among the concerns was that the move could further stigmatize the disease, which has overwhelmingly affected men who have sex with men, said one person with knowledge of the matter.
But LGBTQ groups focused on the monkeypox response have voiced support for declaring the outbreak an emergency. And senior health officials ultimately concluded that the emergency declaration could unlock new authorities that might speed distribution of vaccines and treatments for monkeypox that have so far been in short supply.
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