White House doctor and Covid-19 coordinator Dr Ashish Jha said that monkeypox can “absolutely” be contained in the US. His comments came just one day after the World Health Organisation activated its highest alert level for the global outbreak that’s been detected in more than 70 countries so far this year.
“Monkeypox can be contained, absolutely,” Dr Jha said during an interview on Sunday’s Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan, noting that there have been 2,500 cases reported across 44 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
The White House physician went on to explain that the US Department of Health and Human Services has a “very simple and straightforward strategy” for containing the virus, namely through testing and vaccinations.
“Right now we have the capacity to do 80,000 tests a week. That’s an extraordinary number,” he said, adding that the Biden administration has plans to release “hundreds of thousands more vaccines in the next days and weeks”.
“There is a very substantial ramping up of response that is happening right now.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, confirmed in a separate Sunday interview on MSNBC that country should have “an additional 750,000 doses” of the monkeypox vaccine at the end of the month.
“We are seeing outbreaks that are out of control in many, many parts of the world and it’s very important that we get our arms around this thing,” Dr Jha, the White House Covid-19 coordinator, said in response to a question posed by Ms Brennan about whether HHS should follow the WHO’s example and declare the recent monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency or pandemic.
Dr Jha conceded and said that declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency In the US was “something that HHS might invoke” but emphasised that it would heavily depend on what that declaration would achieve.
“It really depends on what does that allow us to do,” said Dr Jha, adding that that kind of policy option could unlock more resources to tackle the spread of the disease, an option that he said didn’t feel necessary given how rapidly the agency had been “ramping up” vaccinations, treatments and testing capabilities.
“We’re gonna continue to look at all policy options.”
On Saturday, the WHO designated the recent monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, the highest alert level the global agency can issue for public health crises.
The designation does not impose any additional requirements on member states, but it does allow the agency to raise the alarm about the threat posed by the disease.
The decision to issue the highest alert level came after the UN agency refused to do so last month, but WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the declaration on Saturday that the panel had been motivated to revisit the issue after infections across the globe continued to increase substantially over the past few weeks.
“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly, through new modes of transmission, about which we understand too little,” Mr Tedros said.
Prior to the 2022 outbreak, nearly all monkeypox cases found outside of Africa – where the disease has spread at low levels due to rodents and other animals carrying the virus – could be traced back to international travel and imported animals.
The rapid spread of the disease, compounded by the fact that most cases aren’t being traced back to international travel or exposure to important livestock, is what ultimately led the WHO to issue the warning.
“For all of these reasons, I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” said Mr Tedros, who made the decision to declare the outbreak a global concern despite the WHO’s emergency committee not being able to reach a consensus on whether monkeypox constitutes an emergency.
Nine members were against the declaration while six were in favour, which then led the WHO director to break the deadlock himself, Mr Tedros told reporters on Saturday.
Globally, there have been more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox reported across more than 70 countries in the 2022 outbreak, with infections rising 77 per cent from late June through early July, according to WHO data.
Monkeypox is spread through skin-to-skin contact, and a portion of cases being detected in the most recent outbreak is being seen in men who have sex with men, who are at the highest risk right now.
The WHO and the CDC have both come out to emphasise, however, that disease can be contracted regardless of regardless of sexual orientation and have strived to ensure that people in the gay and bisexual communities are not stigmatised against.
The CDC also updated on Friday that two children have reportedly contracted monkeypox in the US, representing the first paediatric cases in the country in the most recent outbreak.