As cases of monkeypox virus surge in the U.S., the Biden administration will start distributing the monkeypox vaccine across the country, focusing on people most at risk and communities with the highest numbers of cases, White House officials announced Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will send 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine immediately to areas with high transmission. An additional 240,000 doses will be distributed over the next few weeks, with even more to come this summer and fall. Officials expect to make at least 1.6 million doses available by the end of the fall.
States with the highest numbers of cases include California, New York, Illinois and Florida, as well as Washington, D.C., according to the latest count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are recommending that vaccines be provided to both people with known monkeypox exposures who are contacted by public health and also to those people who’ve been recently exposed to monkeypox,” the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at a news briefing Tuesday.
The CDC is prioritizing initial access to the vaccine for people who have been in close contact, including sexual contact, with someone who has diagnosed with the virus. The agency will also provide vaccines to men who have sex with men who report having had multiple recent sex partners at a venue or party where the virus is known to have spread, or who have had sex with multiple partners in an area of the country with elevated spread.
The vast majority of confirmed monkeypox cases, both in the U.S. and in the global outbreak as a whole, have been among men who have sex with men.
While case numbers continue to rise in the U.S., the White House Covid-19 coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, seemed hopeful the U.S. could contain the outbreak and said it was important to remain vigilant.
“Monkeypox is not novel,” Jha said at the briefing. “We as a global community have known about it for decades. We know how it spreads. We have tests that help identify people who are infected. We have vaccines that are highly effective against it.”
The U.S. monkeypox outbreak was first detected in Massachusetts in May, after a person who had been traveling tested positive. Since then, the virus has been spreading around the country, with more than 306 cases in 28 states, according to the CDC. But because of limitations with testing for the virus, it’s likely the U.S. is significantly undercounting the numbers of infections, experts say.
“We’ve already lost control of this outbreak,” said David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. “We think there’s many more cases, and we need to act now to get control of this outbreak.”
New York City and Washington, D.C., were among the first cities to begin vaccinating at-risk groups for monkeypox, including men who have sex with men reporting multiple partners or at least one anonymous partner within 14 days. With just 1,000 doses from the CDC to distribute at one clinic, New York, which began administering shots on June 23, quickly ran out.
It was a similar situation in Washington, where health officials announced Monday that they would also start vaccinating at-risk groups. The 300 available appointments were taken in less than an hour after the online booking system went live.