U.S. monkeypox outbreak slows as vaccines become more widely available, health officials say

The US monkeypox outbreak is slowing as vaccines become more available and the public is more aware of what people can do to reduce the risk of infection, White House health officials said.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy head of the White House monkeypox response team, said it took 25 days for cases to double in August, compared to eight days in July. California, New York, Illinois and Texas have all seen significant declines in new cases over the past month, Daskalakis said.

“The positive trends we see in these data also speak to the actions people have taken across the country to protect themselves from the virus, including changing their behavior and looking for tests and vaccines,” Daskalakis said.

The US is still battling the world’s largest monkeypox outbreak, with almost 21,000 cases reported in all 50 states, Washington and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monkeypox is primarily spread during sex among gay and bisexual men, although anyone can contract the virus through close physical contact with an infected person or through contaminated materials such as towels and sheets. The disease is rarely fatal, but causes painful lesions that resemble pimples or blisters.

Over the summer, the Biden administration faced criticism for not ramping up vaccine supplies fast enough to meet the huge demand for shots. Last month, Health Minister Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency, and the Food and Drug Administration approved a different method of administering vaccines that allows providers to extract more doses from each vial of vaccine.

The Jynneos vaccine, manufactured by Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic, is the only approved monkeypox vaccine in the US. It is given in two doses 28 days apart, with peak immune response occurring two weeks after the second dose.

The CDC does not yet have real data on the effectiveness of the Jynneos vaccine, although public health officials expect it to provide protection against monkeypox.

Vaccine supplies have increased significantly since the beginning of August. More than 460,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine have been administered in the US to date, according to data from 35 states provided by the CDC. Some 1.6 million gay and bisexual men are most at risk of contracting monkeypox and are the first target of vaccination efforts.

Blacks and Hispanics have been particularly hard hit by the virus. Nearly 38% of patients are black, 29% are Hispanic, and 27% are white, according to the CDC. According to the 2020 Census, the total US population is 12% black, 19% Hispanic, and 61% white.

Daskalakis said the CDC and the White House are working with black and brown community organizations to improve access to the vaccine. According to Robert Fenton, head of the White House monkeypox response team, the vaccination was offered onsite at Atlanta Black Pride over Labor Day weekend with 4,000 doses.

The US is offering on-site vaccinations at Pride and other high-attendance events for gay and bisexual men to make vaccinations more affordable. More than 3,000 doses were administered in Southern Decadence in New Orleans, according to Fenton. The US is providing 820 doses to Boise Pride and 10,000 doses to California ahead of the Folsom Street Fair and the Castro Street Fair, Fenton said.

Daskalakis said federal health officials are also working with colleges and universities as the school reopens classes to educate them about the resources and tools available to deal with monkeypox if caught on campus, though the risk is low.

“The risk in colleges is extremely low,” Daskalakis said. “In fact, given the way this virus is spreading through the population, the risk in such conditions is low. Awareness is more important than anxiety,” he said.

People with monkeypox should stay at home until the rash has healed and a new layer of skin has formed, stay away from other people, and not share any items or materials with other people, according to CDC guidance.

According to the CDC, people with a new or unexplained rash should avoid sex and social gatherings, especially those where there is close skin-to-skin contact. People can also reduce their risk of infection by temporarily restricting sexual partners for two weeks after receiving a second dose of monkeypox vaccine.

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