US declares health emergency over monkeypox outbreak

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will declare a public health emergency to bolster the federal government’s response to the monkeypox outbreak It has infected more than 6,600 Americans, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The announcement will free up federal funding and other resources to fight the virus, which can cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps in many parts of the body. The people requested anonymity before an official announcement.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration faces criticism over the availability of a monkeypox vaccine. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they are not receiving enough of the double-dose vaccine to meet demand, and some clinics have had to stop delivering second doses to ensure supplies of the first.

The White House said it has delivered more than 1.1 million doses of the vaccine and helped boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

The monkeypox virus is spread through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling, and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels, and clothing. So far, those who have fallen ill are mostly men who have sex with men. But health officials stressed that the virus can infect anyone.

Three days ago, the Biden administration appointed top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as White House coordinators to deal with the monkeypox outbreak.

Politico first reported the expected announcement on Thursday.

Lawrence Gostin, an expert in public health law at Georgetown University, said such a statement is an important and belated step.

“It shows the seriousness and purpose of the U.S. government, and it’s a wake-up call for the world,” he said.

According to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency can tap emergency funds, hire or reassign staff to respond to the outbreak and take other steps to contain the virus.

A public health emergency can be prolonged, similar to what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gostin said the U.S. government was overly cautious and should have declared a national emergency earlier. Public health measures to control the outbreak have faced increasing legal challenges in recent years, but Gostin didn’t expect that to happen with monkeypox.

“This is a textbook case of a public health emergency,” Gostin said. “This is not a red or blue state issue. There is no political opposition to fighting monkeypox.”

The government’s decision follows similar statements by others.

Last week, the World Health Organization called monkeypox a public health emergency, with cases in more than 70 countries. A global emergency is WHO’s highest alert level, but the designation doesn’t necessarily mean the disease is particularly spreadable or deadly.

California, Illinois and New York all announced statements last week, as did New York City, San Francisco and San Diego counties.

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