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White House Unveils Monkeypox Vaccination Campaign

June 29, 2022 by Dan McCue
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Starting Wednesday, clinics across the country will begin to receive doses of a new monkeypox vaccine called Jynneos from the federal stockpile, the move being the start of a nationwide vaccination campaign to slow the spread of the disease. 

Previously, immunizations against monkeypox were offered only to people with a known exposure. 

Though the initial supply of Jynneos is relatively small, health officials assured reporters on a conference call last night that more is coming. The vaccine will be distributed to states based on the number of cases they have and the proportion of the state’s population at risk for severe cases.

State health authorities may also request supplies of an older vaccine developed for smallpox,  ACAM2000, which is believed to protect against monkeypox, the officials on the call said.

“We have vaccines and treatments to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak thanks to years of sustained investment and planning,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our goal right now is to ensure that the limited supply of Jynneos vaccine is deployed to those who can benefit from it most immediately, as we continue to secure additional vaccine doses.”

Monkeypox is a virus that is generally spread through close or intimate contact, with symptoms that include a rash and fever. It is much less transmissible than fast- spreading respiratory diseases like COVID-19, and so far, the outbreak has not caused any deaths in the United States. 

The virus, however, is spreading in the U.S. and globally, the health officials said, and it requires a comprehensive response from federal, state, local, and international governments and communities.

In May the World Health Organization announced monkeypox outbreaks were taking place in many countries that do not typically have cases.

“Some cases have been identified through sexual health clinics in communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men,” the announcement said.

“Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk. However, given that the virus is being identified in these communities, learning about monkeypox will help ensure that as few people as possible are affected and that the outbreak can be stopped.”

The Jynneos vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for protection against smallpox and monkeypox in individuals 18 years and older determined to be at high risk for smallpox or monkeypox infection.

Under the response strategy outlined by health officials Tuesday night, the Department of Health and Human Services will provide 56,000 doses of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine immediately and an additional 240,000 doses in the coming weeks. 

Another 750,000 doses are expected to become available over the summer, and a total of 1.6 million doses by the end of this year.

“This vaccine currently has some limitations on supply, and for this reason the administration’s current vaccine strategy prioritizes making it available to those who need it most urgently,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the call.

ACAM2000, the older smallpox vaccine, has been associated with harsh side effects, including death, in people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women and older adults.

The administration is also striving to make testing easier for those who may have been exposed to monkeypox. Last week, CDC began shipping  tests to five commercial laboratory companies, including some of the nation’s largest reference laboratories, to further increase testing capacity and access in every community. 

And officials stressed, the new strategy for dealing with monkeypox is just the beginning.

“We will continue to take aggressive action against this virus,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, who has also been playing a role in how the government deals with monkeypox.

Despite such promises, the vaccination plan drew criticism from some who said the administration’s response was either too slow or would be too small, ultimately, to reverse the spread of the disease. 

Many, for instance, suggested the administration should have acted at the beginning of Pride Month to get informational materials, tests and vaccines to the thousands upon thousands who attended LGBTQ Pride events over the past month.

“We fell behind the curve on monkeypox and we didn’t have to. We failed to get in front of this virus,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a senior fellow at the center-right American Enterprise Institute, via Twitter. “Now, it may be hard to get it fully back in the box and avoid persistent, albeit lower level endemic spread — and the threat from constant and new menace.”

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, was also critical of the government’s announcement.

“We have more questions than ever about how this vaccine will make it to those most at-risk in an equitable way and how the U.S. will ramp up testing and provide access to the best therapeutics,” Harvey said, in a statement.

As of June 28, there were 306 cases in 27 states and the District of Columbia, up from 156 cases a week earlier. As of Wednesday morning, there were 20 known cases in the District of Columbia, 5 in Maryland and 3 in Virginia, according to the CDC.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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