When the Biden administration announces an “enhanced nationwide vaccination strategy” to curb the spread of monkeypox in the U.S., does it make you tense up a little bit? It’s way too soon after almost two years of nonstop nagging from Team Biden to go get vaccinated against COVID-19 to think about the next campaign coming down the pike. Yet, here we are.
Monkeypox is the new panic porn for the scientific community. The spread of monkeypox is happening in the United States and I’m not making light of it. I am, however, concerned that we may be traveling down the same road we did for the coronavirus. Fortunately, monkeypox doesn’t seem to be so easily spread as COVID-19 and monkeypox has been primarily found within a certain demographic, so maybe it will be easier to contain. HHS announced Tuesday that it is making 296,000 doses available soon. Top federal health officials, including CDC director Rochelle Walensky and Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, held a call with reporters to explain the plan.
The Department of Health and Human Services will make 296,000 doses available in the coming weeks — within that amount, 56,000 doses will be made available immediately — and expects a total of 1.6 million doses to be available in the U.S. by the end of the year. The vaccine being distributed is the JYNNEOS vaccine, which is administered in two doses given 28 days apart.
Under this new strategy, the vaccine will now be given to people with confirmed and presumed monkeypox exposure. That includes “those who had close physical contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox, those who know their sexual partner was diagnosed with monkeypox, and men who have sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where there was known to be monkeypox or in an area where monkeypox is spreading,” according to an HHS press release.
The good news is that ‘only’ 300 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the U.S. and no confirmed deaths from this outbreak in the U.S. The less good news is that there is a lack of testing for monkeypox which means the current outbreak is likely bigger than reported. Is it an STD spread mostly by gay men? Maybe not. Testing is crucial, though, just like with COVID-19 and the medical community has to know what they are looking at.
Nuzzo says the CDC and local health departments need to remove the barriers to testing. “I also want to make testing easier and more widespread so that all clinicians feel that they can test a patient. Any patient with a suspicious rash.”
And doctors and nurses need to have a better understanding of what monkeypox actually looks like in patients. It’s different from what’s in medical textbooks. It can present like many other diseases, including herpes, syphilis and colon cancer.
“Infections have been largely found in men who have sex with men, who may typically seek care at a sexual health clinic,” Nuzzo explains. “Those providers may be particularly well-educated now about monkeypox and may be more willing to send a specimen out for testing. But we may not be seeing that level of education and willingness to test with other health care providers, who see different kinds of patients. And that means we may be missing infections in different patient groups.”
The initial response from the CDC was good last month – it set up testing sites in about 70 state and local labs across the country. A test was already developed, as is a vaccine. Then, as the need grew and monkeypox continued to spread, the testing system set up by CDC began to stop functioning properly. The process makes it difficult for doctors to order testing of patients and bottlenecks occur. It’s hard to increase testing if the process is cumbersome for doctors.
On Tuesday, the CDC announced the activation of its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to respond to the monkeypox outbreak. It is currently activated for COVID-19.
The activation of the EOC “allows the agency to further increase operational support for the response to meet the outbreak’s evolving challenges,” the agency said in a news release.
According to CDC’s webpage, the center works to outline a structure of response from the government and alongside non-government actors in emergency response.
Last month Biden acknowledged he is aware of monkeypox but didn’t know any details. He said everyone should be concerned. He’s been silent on it ever since. Thanks, Joe. Does he remember the spreading outbreak of monkeypox now? Maybe someone around him will keep him better informed about it than they did on the baby formula shortage or any of the other crises this administration faces.