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US declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Registered pharmacist Sapana Patel holds a bottle of Monkeypox vaccine at a pop-up monkeypox vaccination site on Wednesday in West Hollywood, Calif.Richard Vogel/Associated Press

US health officials declared monkeypox a public health emergency, a step aimed at facilitating access to more funding to fight the virus.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the emergency Thursday in a telephone press conference.

The virus has spread to more than 26,000 people globally in just a few months, leading the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on July 23. The US leads the world in known monkeypox cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The emergency declaration in the US will free up federal funding for health agencies and can also fast-track the development of therapeutics or diagnostics.

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“We are anticipating that we may be able to get more access to federal funds to be able to enhance this response even further,” Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said July 28 in a press conference.

Declaring a public health emergency declaration could be a major turning point in the US response, Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s national and global health law institute, said on Thursday.

“The window for containing monkeypox is rapidly closing, but I think it is possible to contain the outbreak,” Gostin said. “But we need a revved-up response at the federal and state level. And that includes declaring a national emergency.”

Some 600,000 doses of Bavarian Nordic A/S’s Jynneos, a vaccine that can be used against monkeypox, have been delivered to states, Becerra said in the briefing. Appointments have filled up quickly in places like New York City and San Francisco, and demand still far exceeds supply.

Part of the problem is that Jynneos requires two shots to be fully effective, which some local health officials have scrapped in favor of getting first doses in arms while supplies are limited. There’s a four-week waiting period between doses, and health experts say supply constraints will likely ease over that time.

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Scientists are also exploring whether different dosing regimens for the vaccine might work -- one of several monkeypox research priorities.