WASHINGTON– The country’s monkeypox outbreak can still be halted, U.S. health officials said Thursday, despite rising case numbers and limited vaccine supplies so far.
The Biden administration’s top health official pushed back on criticism of the pace of the response and fears the United States has missed the window to contain the virus, which has been declared a global emergency.
“We believe we have done everything we can at the federal level to work with our state and local partners and affected communities to ensure we can stay ahead of the curve and end this outbreak,” Xavier Becerra, head of the Ministry of Health and Human Services, told reporters during a call.
But he added that local health officials “must do their part. … We don’t have the power to tell them what to do.
The reaction from federal leaders came as they announced distribution plans for 780,000 shots of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine. Doses will be assigned to states, cities and other localities based on their number of cases and the size of their populations considered to be at high risk for the disease.
Health departments in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere say they still don’t have enough vaccines to meet demand and have stopped scheduling appointments for second doses of vaccine in order to stretch stocks.
Becerra said the federal government had done its job and said it was now up to local authorities to use the tools available.
“We have made vaccines, tests and treatments available to all jurisdictions far beyond the quantities currently needed,” he said.
But a representative from specialist health clinics said Becerra’s comments showed a “lack of understanding of the full magnitude of this crisis”.
“Clinics across the country are crying out to federal health officials for the information, supplies and personnel they need to successfully end this outbreak,” said David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STDs. Directors, in a statement. The group is asking for $100 million in emergency funding for local health departments and clinics.
More than 4,600 cases of monkeypox were reported in the United States as of Wednesday night, according to the CDC, and federal officials expect those numbers to rise.
More than 99% of reported cases are in men and the vast majority of them are in men who have reported sexual contact with other men, although health officials have stressed that anyone can catch the virus. virus.
The United States is now able to test 60,000 to 80,000 people a day, although Becerra said the number of daily tests is far below that.
The monkeypox virus is mainly spread by skin-to-skin contact, but it can also be transmitted by touching the laundry used by an infected person. People with monkeypox may experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. Many in the outbreak developed sometimes painful pimple-like bumps.
The United States has ordered 5.5 million additional vaccine doses for delivery by mid-2023 and has raw ingredient rights that could produce an additional 11.1 million doses. US officials have said a mass vaccination campaign could still be averted if communities and individuals take steps to prevent the spread.
In San Francisco, Tom Temprano had an appointment to get his second dose next week, but was recently told it had been canceled due to a limited supply. Temprano, who is the political director of San Francisco-based Equality California, said he was frustrated that health officials took so long to respond.
“Especially after two and a half years of the pandemic, this is just a very disappointing response to the first large-scale public health crisis we’re facing,” he said.
He also sees parallels with the slow government response to AIDS in the 1980s.
“I’ve heard from many people…that it sounds like the lack of real concern and urgency to a disease that currently disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community,” said Temprano, who is 36.
The CDC estimates that about 1.5 million Americans currently meet the suggested criteria for vaccination, mostly men who have sex with men.
But on Thursday, officials declined to set a figure on the number of vaccine doses needed to stop the outbreak. Nearly 340,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed, but a CDC official acknowledged that the federal government does not know how many were administered.
The additional 780,000 snaps sent to states this week have been delayed by shipping and regulatory hurdles. They sat in storage for weeks in Denmark as US regulators finished inspecting and certifying the factory where they were made.
California State Senator Scott Wiener, who is with the California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, called the additional vaccines “meaningful.” But he added: ‘Of course it’s not enough, and we know we’re going to get millions more doses over the rest of this year and next year, which isn’t soon enough. to actually contain this epidemic. ”
The Georgia Health Department did not have to reschedule a second dose, but spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said, “Demand is still very high. Whenever a health department or other provider opens appointments or slots at an event, they are taken within minutes.
Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, and Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this story.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.