U.S. Will Declare Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

As the virus continues to spread, the decision could be announced as soon as today, a source told the New York Times.

Photo Credit: Feydzhet Shabanov for Adobe Stock

The Biden administration is expected to declare monkeypox a national health emergency as early as today, according to information obtained by the New York Times. The highest rates of contagion by population are in Washington, D.C., New York and Georgia, respectively.

The World Health Organization made that call on July 23, when the virus had infected at least 16,000 people. As of Aug. 1, the number of cases worldwide had risen to 26,200, including nearly 7,000 in the United States.

Dr. Anthony Fauci Photo Credit: Courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The CDC is taking this threat very seriously — and taking action, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stressed in an MSNBC interview in late July. "Monkeypox is not a new virus, but its pattern of spreading is new," Fauci explained. "We know what it is. We have vaccines. We have antiviral therapies. Now we've got to reach out to the community at risk."

About 99 percent of known cases are among men who have sex with men, said Fauci. Five children in the U.S. have been infected, very likely due to skin-to-skin contact with someone who was infected. Based on the epidemiological pattern emerging, the virus does not seem to be a concern among the general population, he added. 

About 1.1 million doses of vaccines are being distributed in the United States. "We've got to outreach to the community predominantly at risk — men who have sex with men — and we've got to do it without any stigma associated with that," he emphasized, "because stigma is the biggest enemy of public health." The government does not expect the next delivery of 500,000 doses until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until 2023.

The Benefits of Declaring a Health Crisis

A WHO panel of advisors was split on whether monkeypox had reached that level of concern, as it is spreading mostly in the primary risk group and not in more vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, children and older adults.

WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overruled the panel, stating that "we have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria [for a public health emergency]."

Labeling the virus a global health emergency allows countries to invest resources to help slow the outbreak, as well as share vaccines and treatments. Only Covid-19 and polio have received the same designation. 

"We'll continue to ramp up the number of vaccines because we know that it is spreading," said United States Secretary of Health and Human Service Xavier Becerra on MSNBC. "We're going to try to do everything we can working with our state and local health partners and the communities that are most at-risk to make sure we try to prevent it and can treat it if someone does catch it."