White House declares monkeypox a public health emergency as cases top 7,000

The White House has officially declared monkeypox a public health emergency.

“We are 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,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Thursday during a briefing.

The announcement comes after New York, Illinois, and California declared monkeypox a public health emergency in their states. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency over the virus on July 23.

A public health emergency will expedite the approval process for new vaccines and treatments. It will also allow the federal government to “get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track and attack this outbreak,” according to Robert Fenton, who was recently appointed by the Biden administration to head the national response to monkeypox. While public health emergencies only last for 90 days, they can be extended by the Secretary.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) praised the announcement as “welcome news” and urged the White House to quickly distribute vaccines to states in need. “As we learned from the COVID crisis, we must act swiftly and decisively to get ahead and stay ahead of this virus,” Pelosi said.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the ranking member of the Senate Health Committee, criticized the administration’s monkeypox response. “A communicable disease outbreak following so closely on the heels of COVID-19 should be met with a swift, decisive, and organized response. Instead, HHS is repeating the exact same mistakes they made during the pandemic: painfully slow to begin testing, wholly disorganized in distributing vaccines and treatments, and messaging that’s confusing and outdated,” Burr said.

As of writing, a total of 7,102 monkeypox cases have been reported in the U.S. The WHO has recorded over 26,000 cases worldwide, NPR reports.

The overwhelming majority of cases have been in men who have sex with men. According to the CDC, monkeypox primarily spreads through direct contact, as well as through fabrics used by an infected person. While experts say the virus primarily spreads through sex, it is not currently considered a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).



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