On Thursday, Aug. 4, the Biden Administration declared monkeypox a national health emergency. The virus, which creates painful, pox-like lesions on the skin and other flu-like symptoms, has infected more than 6,000 Americans since the first case in May 2022. The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency last month.
The virus is spreading fast, with 10 times more cases in the U.S. now than the 700 that were reported less than a month ago. There are currently 577 cases in Florida. As of July 31, there was one case in Sarasota County.
The new national health emergency will give federal agencies power to direct money toward vaccines, drug treatments and additional workers to help manage the outbreak. The vaccine Jynneos, which was developed to combat smallpox, is now being administered for monkeypox. However, the supply of 20 million doses that the U.S. had stashed away for less than a decade expired in May.
Due to limited supply of Jynneos, the Food and Drug Administration is exploring a strategy to expand the number of available doses by administering one-fifth of the dose into layers of the skin as opposed to the fat underneath (the typical method). This could help vaccinate a larger number of people.
Tests for monkeypox have also been difficult to obtain, making an accurate count of cases hard to determine. As of June 2022, five commercial laboratory companies offer monkeypox tests: Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare. Availability varies by state.
The drug tecovirimat can be used to treat those already infected by monkeypox. Doctors currently must request the drug, making it difficult for quick distribution. Tecovrimat is an antiviral medication approved for the treatment of smallpox which, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, will undergo a U.S.-based randomized, controlled trial by the National Institute of Health to assess its safety and efficacy against monkeypox.
The Centers for Disease Control, however, holds access to an Investigational New Drug protocol that allows for use of the drug for primary or early empiric treatment of monkeypox in children and adults of all ages.
Monkeypox symptoms include a rash of itchy, extremely painful lesions on the hands, feet, chest, face or mouth and genitals, respiratory symptoms, swollen lymph nodes and fever or muscle aches. While no deaths have been reported in the United States—monkeypox is much less contagious and much less likely to be deadly than Covid—the number of cases is expected to rise as the virus continues to spread.
According to The New York Times, the national health emergency will last for 90 days, but can be extended. This, however, does not grant the Food and Drug Administration emergency authorization to vaccines, tests or treatments.
"[The declaration] should help galvanize more testing and more health care provider awareness, especially in places outside the big cities where the level of attention to this has been far less," Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The New York Times.