Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra made the announcement, citing an increase in cases across the U.S. and growing concerns regarding access to treatment for the virus.
“We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus,” said Becerra during a briefing with media and officials.
The U.S. announcement comes on the heels of the World Health Organization’s own declaration on July 23 that monkeypox represents a “public health emergency of international concern.” More than 25,000 cases have been recorded as of Wednesday across 87 countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The administration’s decision would require states to report their case numbers and ensure better coordination in the federal response. But critics have argued that this will not solve existing challenges, including a shortage of monkeypox vaccines, sources told The Washington Post.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday appointed FEMA’s Robert Fenton as the White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis as Fenton’s deputy. The pair will work with local and state officials to “equitably” increase the availability of testing, treatment and vaccination for monkeypox.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical advisor, said the new coordinators will help the White House “further accelerate and strengthen its monkeypox response.”
Fenton and Daskalakis “are proven, effective leaders that will lead a whole of government effort to implement President Biden’s comprehensive monkeypox response strategy with the urgency that this outbreak warrants,” Fauci said.
The U.S. had recorded 6,600 cases since May 18, according to The Washington Post.
The U.S. had recorded 6,617 cases since Aug. 3, according to the CDC. So far, no deaths linked to the virus have been recorded in the country. While most cases have been found in men who have sex with men, U.S. health officials announced on July 22 that two children had contracted the virus.
Several U.S. states and cities have been grappling with how to respond to the outbreak.
The Washington, D.C., Department of Health announced Monday it will be shifting to a single-shot strategy, trying to use its limited stock to reach as many people as possible.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the city is working to get more vaccines, according to NY1.
In San Francisco, the waitlist for the Jynneos vaccine is in the thousands, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier this week, Becerra told CNN his concern over monkeypox was 10 out of 10, saying the country needs to work fast to make sure it doesn’t become a “part of life.” Asked why the White House hasn’t announced a public health emergency over monkeypox, Becerra said the administration was carefully weighing the decision.
“We declare public health emergencies based on the data and the science, not on our worries,” Becerra told CNN’s Poppy Harlow.
HHS has so far distributed 200,000 Jynneos vaccines and “accelerated the inspection of approximately 800,000 vaccines for delivery this summer,” according to a press release.
Despite the administration’s actions, Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the U.S. has probably missed the window to contain monkeypox.
“I think, at this point, we’ve failed to contain this,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on July 17. “We’re now at the cusp of this becoming an endemic virus, where this now becomes something that’s persistent that we need to continue to deal with. I think the window for getting control of this and containing it probably has closed. And, if it hasn’t closed, it’s certainly starting to close.”
The first case of monkeypox in the U.S. was reported in May.