- The HHS is ramping up efforts to distribute vaccines that can protect against monkeypox as outbreaks in the U.S. continue. The department said this week it plans to send out 1.6 million doses by the end of the year.
- The distribution will take place on a four-tier basis with areas that have the highest case rates coming first. Within the tiers, priority will be based on the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have preexisting conditions, including HIV, according to the HHS.
- The plan follows other actions by the Biden administration as it attempts to head off more outbreaks. The administration has scaled orthopoxvirus testing capacity to 70 labs across nearly all states and has shipped the test to five commercial labs in an effort to improve access.
The Centers for Disease Control has counted 350 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S. and more than 5,000 globally this year, although the amount may be an undercount given that testing hasn't been widely available.
The virus spreads through prolonged face-to-face contact or intimate physical contact as well as by direct contact with infectious rash, scabs or bodily fluids. Early data suggest that men who have sex with men make up a high number of cases, according to the CDC.
“While monkeypox poses minimal risk to most Americans, we are doing everything we can to offer vaccines to those at high-risk of contracting the virus,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. This new strategy allows us to maximize the supply of currently available vaccines and reach those who are most vulnerable to the current outbreak.”
Still, some health experts caution that unknowns about the outbreak warrant greater concern.
"The more we know about monkeypox the more we realize how much we DON'T know," former CDC Director Tom Frieden said Wednesday on Twitter. He later added that a “threat anywhere can potentially spread further — we must take outbreaks everywhere seriously."
The CDC said this week it’s activating its emergency operations center to monitor and coordinate the U.S. response to the outbreak. It has recommended providers consider testing all rashes with clinical suspicion of monkeypox.
So far, the HHS and the CDC have distributed 9,000 vaccine doses and 300 antiviral treatments. Now, 56,000 vaccines will be sent out immediately and 240,000 will be distributed in the coming weeks, the department said.
The doses are of Bovarian Nordic’s smallpox virus Jynneos. Last month, Moderna said it would begin research on monkeypox vaccines.