HHS renews public health emergency for monkeypox outbreak

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday renewed the national public health emergency for the monkeypox outbreak, with officials stating that the virus is still very present in the U.S. even as cases continue to drop.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra cited the “continued consequences of an outbreak of monkeypox cases across multiple states” as well as a “consultation with public health officials” for his decision to renew the public health emergency.

The public health emergency for monkeypox was first signed on August 4. Public health emergencies from HHS end after 90 days unless they are renewed.

An HHS spokesperson told The Hill that the decision to renew was also prompted by the need to maintain the flow of data from states and jurisdictions as well as to allow vaccine effectiveness studies to take place.

There are currently no vaccines or treatments specifically meant for monkeypox, but treatments for smallpox, which is part of the family of viruses that monkeypox belongs to, have been mobilized to at-risk communities. These include the smallpox vaccine Jynneos as well as the antiviral tecovirimat, better known as TPOXX.

Since peaking in early August, monkeypox cases in the U.S. have continued to drop, with the most recent seven day moving average for cases standing at 30 per day. Experts have attributed this swift drop in cases to changes in behavior among men who have sex with men, the demographic that has been largely affected by the global monkeypox outbreak.

Over 28,000 monkeypox cases have been confirmed in the U.S. as well as six related deaths. More than 77,000 cases have been reported globally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September expressed “moderate confidence” that monkeypox cases would plateau or continue to decline going forward, though the agency said it was unlikely that monkeypox would be entirely eliminated in the U.S.

LGBTQ public health experts who spoke with The Hill shortly before Becerra’s decision was announced voiced their support for a renewal of the public health emergency.

Vanessa Castro, associate director of HIV & health equity for the Human Rights Campaign, said the emergency should be renewed as other challenges associated to the outbreak are still ongoing.

“One of the biggest things that we are continuing to hear about is really the disproportionate access to vaccine distribution, which especially impacts our Black, Latinx and people living with HIV communities,” Castro said.

According to federal data, Black individuals currently account for the largest share of reported monkeypox cases at 44 percent. This proportion has grown as the monkeypox outbreak has gone on, with the White and Hispanic or Latino communities following behind in terms of cases.

Sean Cahill, director of health policy research at The Fenway Institute, similarly acknowledged that while case rates are going in the right direction, racial and ethnic disparities in disease prevalence and vaccine uptake are still occurring.

Speaking to The Hill on Tuesday, Cahill said he feared that allowing the public health emergency to expire would “send the wrong message.”

“Just like COVID-19 is not over — and Congress should appropriate sorely needed funding for COVID-19 vaccination, care and public education — so too the monkeypox outbreak is not over,” said Cahill.

Castro echoed these sentiments, noting that many community organizations that are working to fight the outbreak, particularly those in the South, are already “working on fumes” with limited resources.

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