NEW YORK (A.P.) – In response to a surprising and growing monkeypox outbreak, U.S. health officials Tuesday expanded the group of people recommended vaccinating against the monkeypox virus.
They also said they are providing more monkeypox vaccines, are working on expanding testing, and are taking other steps to stay ahead of the outbreak.
“We will continue to take aggressive action against this virus,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator, who has also played a role in the government’s handling of monkeypox.
The government said it is expanding the group of people being advised to get vaccinated to include those who may realize they may be infected. That includes men who have recently had sex with men at parties or other gatherings in cities where cases of monkeypox have been identified.
Most monkeypox patients only experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. People with more serious illnesses may develop skin rashes and facial and hand lesions that can spread to other body parts.
The disease is endemic in parts of Africa, where humans have become infected through bites from rodents or small animals. It usually does not spread easily among people.
Cases started popping up in Europe and the United States last month. Many – but not all – of those who contracted the virus had traveled internationally. Most were men who had sex with men, but health officials emphasized that anyone can get monkeypox.
A man receives a dose of Jynneos monkeypox vaccine as part of D.C. Health’s first vaccination campaign in Washington, US, on June 28, 2022.
The number of cases has continued to grow. By Tuesday, the U.S. had identified 306 points in 27 states and the District of Columbia. More than 4,700 cases have been found in more than 40 other countries outside the areas of Africa where the virus is endemic.
There have been no U.S. deaths, and officials say the risk to the U.S. public is low. But they are taking steps to reassure people that medical measures have been taken to address the growing problem.
One of the steps was to expand who is recommended to get vaccinated. Vaccines are usually given to build immunity in people before they are infected. But if delivered within days or even a few weeks of initial infection, some vaccines can reduce the severity of symptoms.
A two-dose vaccine, Jynneos, has been approved for monkeypox in the U.S. The government has many more doses of an older smallpox vaccine — ACAM2000 — which they say could also be used, but that vaccine is thought to carry a greater risk of side effects. And is not recommended for people with HIV. So it’s the Jynneos vaccine that officials have been trying to use as a primary weapon against the monkeypox outbreak.
So far, the government has deployed more than 9,000 doses of vaccine. U.S. officials said Tuesday they are increasing the amount of Jynneos vaccine they are making available, with 56,000 doses immediately assigned and about 240,000 more in the coming weeks. They promised more than 1 million more for the coming months.
Officials said limited doses of Jynneos will be allocated “using a four-tier distribution strategy that prioritizes jurisdictions with the highest rates of monkeypox” and that the number of amounts distributed would be based on the number of people at risk for the disease. Monkeypox and how many of them cannot get ACAM2000 because of HIV.
That suggests the highest number of doses could go to states like New York, California, and Illinois, which have each reported more than 40 cases. However, officials did not say which jurisdictions would top the list on Tuesday.
David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, was critical of the government’s announcement.
“We have more questions than ever about how this vaccine will equitably reach the most at-risk people and how the U.S. will ramp up testing and provide access to the best therapies,” Harvey said.
Another change was announced Tuesday: So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised that vaccines be given after exposure to people that health officials identify as having close personal contact with cases. But on Tuesday, CDC officials said they are extending the recommendation to people who have never been identified but may realize they may be infected.
This could include men who have had sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a location where monkeypox was known to be present or in an area where monkeypox is spreading.
“It’s almost like we’re expanding the definition of who a contact might be,” said Jennifer McQuiston of the CDC. If people have been to a party or other place where monkeypox is known to spread, “we recommend that they stop by for a vaccine,” she said.
The expansion of the CDC follows similar steps in New York City and the District of Columbia.
The District of Columbia has identified 19 cases. Still, case-tracking investigations revealed that some of the infected men had been in gatherings where they hugged, kissed, or engaged in close intimate contact with people they didn’t know, Anil Mangla said. . from the D.C. health department.
It was clear that “we were missing something here” and that we had to start offering services to others, said Mangla, an epidemiologist.
Last Thursday, the New York City health department — armed with 1,000 doses of Jynneos from the federal government — announced it would open a temporary clinic to offer the vaccine to all gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who have multiple or anonymous sex partners in the past two weeks.
But all appointments quickly filled up that day, and Monday was the last round. “Until we have more supply, we cannot release additional vaccination appointments,” Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for the city’s health department, said in an email.
On Monday, the District of Columbia’s health department took a similar step. Mangla said the department started taking appointments at 1 p.m. Monday but had to stop after 20 minutes.
He said the department only had 200 doses of Jynneos and didn’t have the vaccine stock or staff to sign up new people.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The A.P. is solely responsible for all content.