WHO declares growing monkeypox outbreak global health emergency

Dive Brief:

  • The World Health Organization on Saturday declared the fast-spreading monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency, strengthening a coordinated international response to slow transmission and protect vulnerable groups.
  • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra called the WHO’s declaration a “call to action” for the global health community. “We are determined to accelerate our response in the days ahead,” Becerra said of the U.S. effort to make vaccines, testing and treatments available to people in need.
  • A day earlier, the HHS announced it is elevating the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response from a staff division to a standalone agency within the department, alongside the Centers for Disease Control, Federal Drug Administration, CMS and others, to bolster the country’s ability to mobilize to address current and future health emergencies. The new agency will be named the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response.

Dive Insight:

The declaration of a public health emergency of international concern by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus comes as the monkeypox outbreak has expanded quickly to more than 16,000 cases in 75 countries. Five people have died in the outbreak, he said.

“There is also a clear risk of further international spread,” Ghebreyesus said in explaining his decision to declare the emergency, even though the WHO committee convened to determine whether to classify the outbreak at the agency’s highest alert level had not reached a consensus to do so. The WHO last declared a global health emergency at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. 

The U.S. is also considering declaring a public health emergency for monkeypox but has not yet made that decision, Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told CBS News on Sunday. Since the first U.S. infection was confirmed on May 18, nearly 2,900 cases of monkeypox have been identified across the U.S., with roughly 1,000 cases added to the count in the past week alone.

In Friday press briefing, Jha said more than 300,000 doses of Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine for the virus have been shipped to states, cities and other jurisdictions, and another 786,000 doses have been inspected in Denmark and are due to arrive in the U.S. within two weeks. The HHS has said it will have 7 million doses of monkeypox vaccine in U.S. stockpiles by mid-2023.

The CDC confirmed Friday that the virus has been identified for the first time in children in the U.S. — a toddler in California and an infant who is not a U.S. resident — likely the result of household transmission.

The virus, which causes skin lesions and flu-like symptoms, spreads through close contact. U.S. cases have primarily involved men who have sex with men, according to health officials.

Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said during Friday’s briefing that the vast majority of U.S. cases reported have involved male-to-male sexual contact.