US officials say it’s not too late to stop monkeypox

Health departments in some major cities don’t have enough shots to meet demand and have stopped scheduling appointments for second doses of the vaccine to expand supplies.

WASHINGTON — The country’s monkeypox outbreak has yet to be contained despite rising case numbers and limited vaccine supplies so far, US health officials said Thursday.

The Biden administration’s top health official has fought back criticism of the pace of the response and feared the US had missed the window to contain the virus, which was declared a global emergency.

“We believe we have done everything we can at the federal level to work with our affected state and local partners and communities to ensure we are one step ahead and able to end this outbreak,” said Xavier Becerra, leader the Ministry of Health and Human Services told reporters on a call.

But he added that local health authorities “have to do their part. … We don’t have the authority to tell them what to do.”

The backlash from federal leaders came as they announced distribution plans for 780,000 shots of the Jynneos vaccine in two doses. Doses are assigned to states, cities, and other locations considered high-risk for the disease based on their case numbers and the size of their populations.

Health departments in San Francisco, New York, Washington, DC and elsewhere say they still don’t have enough shots to meet demand and have stopped scheduling dates for second vaccine doses to expand supplies.

Becerra said the federal government had done its job and said the responsibility now rests with local officials to use the tools available.

“We have made vaccines, tests and treatments available well in excess of what is currently needed for all jurisdictions,” he said.

However, a specialist clinics representative said Becerra’s comments showed “a lack of understanding of the full breadth of this crisis.”

“Clinics across the country are asking federal health officials for the information, supplies and staff they need to successfully end this outbreak,” David C. Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, said in a statement. The group is pushing for $100 million in emergency funding for local health departments and clinics.

RELATED: US announces 800,000 more doses of monkeypox vaccine

According to the CDC, there were more than 4,600 reported cases of monkeypox in the United States late Wednesday, and federal officials expect those numbers to rise.

More than 99% of reported cases involve men, and the vast majority of these involve men who have reported sexual contact with other men, although health officials have stressed that anyone can contract the virus.

The US is now able to test 60,000 to 80,000 people a day, although Becerra said daily testing numbers are well below that.

The monkeypox virus spreads primarily through skin-to-skin contact, but it can also be spread by touching bedding used by someone with the infection. People with monkeypox may experience fever, body aches, chills, and fatigue. Many in the epidemic have developed sometimes painful, zit-like bumps.

The US has ordered 5.5 million more vaccine doses for delivery by mid-2023 and has rights to the raw materials that could yield 11.1 million more doses. US officials said a massive vaccination campaign can still be avoided if communities and individuals take action to prevent spread.

RELATED: San Francisco declares emergency over spread of monkeypox

In San Francisco, Tom Temprano had an appointment for his second dose next week but was recently informed it was canceled due to limited supplies. Temprano, the political director of San Francisco-based Equality California, said he was frustrated that health officials had taken so long to respond.

“Especially after still two and a half years into a pandemic, this is just a very disappointing response to the first major public health crisis we are facing,” he said.

He also sees parallels with the slow government response to AIDS in the 1980s.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people… that in terms of the lack of real concern and urgency, this feels similar to an illness that’s currently disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ+ community,” said Temprano, who is 36.

The CDC estimates that about 1.5 million Americans currently meet the proposed criteria for vaccination, mostly men who have sex with men.

However, officials on Thursday declined to set a number for how many vaccine doses would be needed to stop the outbreak. Nearly 340,000 vaccine doses have been distributed, but a CDC official acknowledged the federal government doesn’t know how many have been administered.

RELATED: WHO declares monkeypox outbreak a global emergency; Here’s what that means

The additional 780,000 shots shipped to states this week have been delayed by shipping and regulatory hurdles. They sat in Denmark for weeks while US regulators completed inspection and certification of the facility that made them.

California Sen. Scott Wiener, a member of the California LGBTQ Caucus, called the additional vaccines “significant.” But he added: “Obviously that’s not enough and we know we’ll be receiving millions more doses throughout this year and next, which isn’t soon enough to actually contain this outbreak. ”

The Georgia Department of Health did not have to delay a second dose, but spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said: “Demand is still very high. Every time a health department or other provider releases appointments or slots at an event, these are taken within minutes.”

Associated Press writers Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, and Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this story. US officials say it’s not too late to stop monkeypox

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