WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Friday it does not plan to extend its public health emergency declaration for the mpox outbreak, formerly known as monkeypox, beyond its scheduled expiration in late January. a signal that the disease is no longer a crisis-level threat in the United States.
Xavier Becerra, health and human services secretary, cited the low number of new virus cases when announcing the administration’s plans.
“We won’t let up on the accelerator – we will continue to closely monitor case trends and encourage everyone at risk to get the vaccine for free,” Becerra said in a statement.
Although the disease has not been eradicated in the United States, Friday’s announcement served as acknowledgment that the virus had been largely suppressed. The Department of Health and Human Services said the administration was working toward “a lasting end to mpox transmission.”
Since the country’s first case in this year’s outbreak was identified in May, nearly 30,000 cases and 19 deaths have been reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the country now averages less than 10 cases a day – a sharp drop from the roughly 450 daily cases at the height of the outbreak in early August.
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Public health experts have attributed the trend to a number of factors, including higher vaccination rates, behavioral adjustments among people at high risk of contracting the disease and the relative difficulty of contracting the virus, which is spreading by close contact. The disease has spread mainly among men who have sex with men.
On Friday, administration officials attributed the improved course of the outbreak in part to White House mpox response coordinator Robert Fenton, a longtime federal emergency response official, and his deputy, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, an infectious disease expert. Among other actions, their team conducted targeted outreach activities with at-risk communities, including during Pride events.
Mr. Becerra declared the public health emergency in August. At the time, the federal government was struggling to catch up with a growing epidemic caused in part by the administration’s slow response to the first weeks of the virus spreading in the United States. The supply of vaccines and tests was initially limited, and federal scientists struggled to source data on mpox.
Gay rights activists who criticized the administration had been calling for an emergency declaration for weeks before the August announcement.
The statement allowed the health department to mount a more aggressive and well-funded response. More importantly, public health experts said, it enabled data-sharing agreements between state health departments, healthcare providers and federal agencies, allowing the CDC to better track cases and patients. vaccination rate.
In addition, the declaration freed up federal emergency funds for the response and facilitated the delivery of vaccines, said Lawrence O. Gostin, a health law expert at Georgetown University who advised the administration on the mpox.
Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the statement also raised much-needed awareness of the epidemic.
“There’s a symbolic aspect to it,” she says. “He draws attention to it and says, ‘This is on a serious level that deserves a national response.’
The Federal Department of Health said Friday that the decision to let the declaration expire next year “assumes the epidemic’s trajectory to continue downward over the next two months.” But the department added that if conditions worsen, it may adjust its plans.
The shape of the federal response to the mpox is not expected to change significantly following Friday’s announcement, administration officials said. After the public health emergency ends, vaccines, tests and treatments will still be available, the health department said. The team led by Mr Fenton and Dr Daskalakis is expected to remain in place for the time being, an official said.
With the spread of mpox having slowed, public health experts said it was important for the administration to acknowledge the less severe state of the outbreak.
“To not dilute the value of emergencies, they need to be temporary in nature,” Gostin said, adding, “You shouldn’t have a semi-permanent state of emergency. You should recognize when it’s time to relax.
Still, he warned that ending the emergency declaration still risks communicating to at-risk Americans that they don’t have to be as vigilant, increasing the chance that the disease will spread more easily.
This week, the World Health Organization recommended that the disease be renamed mpox. Critics said the old name promoted stigma and evoked racist tropes and Western stereotypes. US health agencies quickly adopted the new name.
A separate public health emergency declaration remains in effect for the coronavirus pandemic. It was last extended in October and the Federal Health Ministry plans to extend it again in January.
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