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Doses of the smallpox and monkeypox vaccine are prepped at the JRI Health clinic in Framingham, Massachusetts. (Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

50 House Democrats Urge Biden to Declare Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

The lawmakers are also advocating for increased vaccination efforts as well as an interagency appointee to coordinate federal strategy and combat stigmatization.

Jessica Corbett

Fifty House Democrats on Thursday called on the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency and boost vaccination efforts in response to the nation's rising Monkeypox cases.

"Declare a public health emergency and use those authorities to accelerate the federal response."

Monkeypox is caused by a virus that generally is not common in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An infected person can experience a rash resembling blisters or pimples and flu-like symptoms.

This year, have been more than 15,500 confirmed cases in 72 countries—66 of which have not historically reported monkeypox—the CDC said Wednesday. The United States has recorded over 2,300 cases, including 581 in New York, 356 in California, 208 in Florida, 208 in Illinois, 158 in Georgia, and 110 in the District of Columbia.

Congressmen Mondaire Jones and Jerry Nadler—both New York Democrats—and four dozen of their colleagues wrote to President Joe Biden:

As cases of monkeypox rise across more states, we ask that the administration act with urgency to ensure that roughly one million ready-to-administer doses of Jynneos vaccine arrive in the United States within the next week; that there is a clear, immediately implemented plan to fill-and-finish the additional 15.1 million doses of raw vaccine substance so that these are also vaccine-ready; and that there is a plan, overseen by a dedicated White House liaison, to coordinate a federal strategy to administer them as quickly as possible. We also encourage the administration to declare a public health emergency and use those authorities to accelerate the federal response.

The letter lays out issues accessing "millions of doses of Jynneos vaccine owned by the U.S. and produced by Bavarian Nordic," and declares that "bureaucratic delays should not prevent us from getting the vaccine doses we need now."

"We are already seeing how limited vaccine supplies are being distributed in overwhelmingly urban, whiter, and wealthier neighborhoods to the detriment of those who tend to have limited access to healthcare, especially people of color," the document continues. "Expanding vaccine production capacity can also address issues of vaccine equity globally so that other countries have access as we combat this global outbreak."

Given that monkeypox cases "are occurring mainly, but not exclusively, among men who have sex with men and transgender people," and "the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic shows just how harmful stigmatization of any disease or groups of people can be to public health outcomes," the letter asserts that "an interagency coordinator can ensure consistent messaging."

"As the administration works to respond to this monkeypox outbreak, a coordinated campaign in public awareness and messaging to combat any stigmatization and ensure accurate messaging for all populations must be a core part of our efforts," the letter adds. "An effective response to swiftly curb this outbreak would demonstrate the administration's commitment to the health and safety of the LGBTQ+ community."

The lawmakers' demands came as Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, urged the Biden administration to further prioritize vaccinating people in places with high monkeypox caseloads, like Chicago.

Pritzker sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O'Connell detailing vaccine availability issues in the major city and across the state.

"We know that a swift response is essential when confronting outbreaks of disease," Pritzker said. "And we've learned in the last few years that most people are eager to protect themselves and their communities when given the tools to do so. We must give the public and health professionals every tool possible to counter the spread of monkeypox."

Mounting pressure on the Biden administration coincided with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) reconvening an emergency committee to again consider whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency on a global scale.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during his opening remarks that "I am acutely aware that any decision I take regarding the possible determination of a public health emergency of international concern involves the consideration of many factors, with the ultimate goal of protecting public health."

Noting that "the vast majority of cases continue to be reported among men who have sex with men," Tedros also said that "this transmission pattern represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions, and a challenge because in some countries, the communities affected face life-threatening discrimination."

During an event after that meeting on Thursday, Tedros acknowledged the potential forthcoming declaration and said that "we will inform all member states of the committee's recommendation and my decision as soon as possible."

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