White House announces new monkeypox vaccine strategy, will prioritize areas with outbreaks

·3 min read
Photo illustration /CDC file via AP

The White House unveiled an updated monkeypox vaccination strategy Tuesday afternoon, with plans to send hundreds of thousands of doses to areas with confirmed outbreaks.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to distribute 296,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine — an already-developed monkeypox vaccine — to jurisdictions across the country. An initial 56,000 will be distributed immediately to areas such as Sacramento that have already seen cases, and the additional 240,000 will be distributed “in the coming weeks,” HHS said.

The United States has seen 306 total monkeypox cases, eight of which have been in the Sacramento area. The virus has infected 4,700 people globally during this recent outbreak.

More than 9,000 vaccines have already been distributed to certain areas of the country, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the White House’s first step to significantly scale up testing and vaccination in preparation for a potential outbreak.

“We have received additional vaccine from the state,” Sacramento County health spokeswoman Samantha Mott said in an emailed response Tuesday. “Our public health lab already conducts testing. Other commercial labs may start testing but we don’t know (the) timeline on when that might happen.”

Local officials have administered 47 first doses and 11 second doses of monkeypox vaccine to close contacts of infections, Mott said.

“Within days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the United States, we quickly began deploying vaccines and treatment to help protect the American public and limit the spread of the virus,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a Tuesday news release. “While monkeypox poses minimal risk to most Americans, we are doing everything we can to offer vaccines to those at high-risk of contracting the virus. This new strategy allows us to maximize the supply of currently available vaccines and reach those who are most vulnerable to the current outbreak.”

While vaccines remain in limited supply, HHS is recommending vaccination only for those who have a confirmed or presumptive exposure. Because of the difficult of specific contact tracing, this includes “those who had close physical contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox, those who know their sexual partner was diagnosed with monkeypox, and men who have sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where there was known to be monkeypox or in an area where monkeypox is spreading,” HHS said Tuesday.

According to Jennifer McQuiston, the deputy director of the CDC’s division of high consequence pathogens and pathology, close contact and sexual contact appear to be the “primary drivers” of the current moneybox outbreaks.

The Jynneos vaccines that the government will soon be distributing are two-dose vaccines, taken 28 days apart. Immunity is believed to be reached six weeks after one’s first dose.

Another monkeypox vaccine, ACAM2000, will be available to any jurisdiction that requests it. It is in higher supply than Jynneos, but has significant side effects for those who are immunocompromised and is therefore “not recommended for everyone,” HHS said.

The initially-available Jynneos doses will be allocated using a four-tier strategy, which prioritizes areas with high case rates and also takes into consideration the number per jurisdiction of those at risk of monkeypox who have a contraindication to ACAM2000.

“We have vaccines and treatments to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak thanks to years of sustained investment and planning,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell Tuesday. “Our goal right now is to ensure that the limited supply of JYNNEOS vaccine is deployed to those who can benefit from it most immediately, as we continue to secure additional vaccine doses.”

HHS expects 750,000 additional Jynneos vaccines to become available over the summer, and 500,000 during the fall, ultimately bringing the vaccine total to 1.6 million.

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