HHS declares public health emergency over monkeypox

The Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency to combat the growing monkeypox outbreak as U.S. cases surge past 6,000.

Becerra’s declaration made during a call with reporters Thursday aims to accelerate the federal response to the outbreak and follows several states such as New York and California that declared their own emergencies.

It also comes as members of Congress and some medical groups called for a national emergency. 

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus,” Becerra told reporters during the call.

Officials said the emergency will help broaden outreach to providers on the needs to test for the virus and to learn more about the outbreak.

The emergency can also help to expedite data-sharing between the federal government and localities, said Rochelle Walensky, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She added the PHE could provide justification for more jurisdictions to sign agreements to share data with the agency. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also has authorities to provide more data around testing and hospitalization. 

Walensky added that the emergency can be used to help get more tests to providers, as well as more technical assistance and outreach.

Testing capacity has increased from 6,000 to 80,000 tests per week, said Robert Fenton, the newly appointed federal monkeypox coordinator.

“This virus is moving fast, and this is a unique outbreak,” he added.

Becerra had declined last week to name a PHE when he announced more than 700,000 vaccines will be available in the coming weeks. He said on Thursday that now more than 600,000 doses have been delivered to state and local partners.

While doses continue to be sent out, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is exploring a way to expand the reach of the vials themselves. 

The FDA is exploring “dose scaling” by stretching the number of doses contained in a vial from one to five.

Overall safety and efficacy of the vaccine called JYNNEOS, originally approved for smallpox, won’t be compromised in the research on stretching doses, FDA Administrator Robert Califf, MD, told reporters.

“It will not be sacrificing the high quality, regulatory standards that Americans have come to expect,” he said.