As monkeypox cases climb, HHS announces 780,000 more vaccines to be released Friday

“Every American should pay attention on monkeypox,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters during a call Thursday. “It is contagious, it is painful and it can be dangerous.”

But Becerra said he is not ready to declare a public health emergency, which would give the government a host of new authorities.

“We continue to monitor the response,” he said. “We will weigh any decision based on the response.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is set to make monkeypox a nationally notifiable condition, released new demographic data, showing 99 percent of cases are in people assigned male at birth, and the majority of those reported having sex with men. Of the cases that included race and ethnicity data, 37 percent were in non-Hispanic white people, 31 percent among Hispanic or Latino people, 27 percent among non-Hispanic Black or African American people and 4 percent among Asian people.

The secretary said it was not inevitable that monkeypox would become endemic in the United States even as officials expect the outbreak could expand beyond men who have sex with men.

“We cannot let this get out of control,” Becerra said. “Everybody’s got to do their part.”

Many more Jynneos shots, a newer generation of a smallpox vaccine in low supply globally, are on the way, with the U.S. ordering 5.5 million additional doses to be filled and finished from existing bulk material. By May 2023, the U.S. expects to have nearly 7 million doses.

It’s not yet known how many people in the U.S. have gotten one of the shots.

The government will also have the option of ordering more than 11 million more doses of the vaccine — saying they hope to do so in the future. If doses aren’t used, they will be added to the smallpox preparedness program, Dawn O’Connell, who leads the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, told reporters Thursday.

Though the U.S. has access to more vaccines than any other country, cities and states have not had enough to keep up with demand. It also has a large stock of an older vaccine, ACAM2000, which can have more severe side effects and is not widely used for monkeypox in the U.S.

There are about 16 million doses of the Jynneos vaccine currently available globally, the World Health Organization said, urging countries to share supplies.

Tecovirimat, the antiviral used to treat the virus, is also part of the U.S. arsenal. Even with over 1 million doses on hand, though, the drug has been difficult for providers to prescribe, leading the FDA to update its policies for usage.

To date, fewer than 10,000 people have received the treatment.

Testing for the virus has also been boosted, with a capacity of over 60,000 tests per week. The expanded testing — along with continued spread — means case counts are expected to continue rising, Becerra said.

“While this is a tremendous boost to vaccine availability, we know that more needs to be done,” O’Connell said.