PHILADELPHIA – The monkeypox outbreak reached a concerning new threshold in the United States as the federal health regulators declared the virus a public health emergency.
The announcement will free up money and other resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.
The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. The people who have gotten sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone.
The declaration by HHS comes as the Biden administration has faced criticism over monkeypox vaccine availability. Clinics in major cities such as New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supply of first doses.
Philadelphia health officials are likewise sounding the alarm about the undersupply of monkeypox vaccines. Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said her department has been promised 6,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, but so far has only received a little more than 2,600.
“We are advocating to our federal partners for more vaccine for Philadelphia,” Bettigole said. She believes that even if the city gets its promised allotment of shots it still won’t be enough, and the for now they’re prioritizing doses to anyone with known exposure.
The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses available and has helped to boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.
Monkeypox cases have been rising faster than experts anticipated and Philadelphia is no exception. According to the health department, there are more than 80 cases in Philadelphia, and there was a 50% increase in cases over the last week.
“This isn’t acting like monkeypox typically acts, usually you don’t see big outbreaks like this,” Bettigole said.
Philadelphia recently launched a monkeypox page on its website to improve transparency, including information on case counts, vaccine distribution and resources. This comes days after local groups criticized the city, state and federal leaders for not doing enough to prioritize public health.
“We do hear you,” Bettigole said. “For community activists we want to be in conversation with you and understand from your point of view what we can do better.”