Biden accelerating monkeypox vaccine effort, treatment availability as cases climb

Top Biden administration officials are set to announce new steps Thursday to accelerate the US response to the spread of monkeypox amid high demand for vaccines and treatments.

That includes boosting supply with an additional 1.8 million doses of the Jynneos monkeypox vaccine, accelerating the US Department of Health and Human Services’ vaccine distribution timeline. HHS will also launch a new program aimed at making vaccines available and engaging with at-risk communities at large events attracting LGBTQ communities. And the administration is pre-positioning doses of an antiviral treatment for individuals who test positive.

The announcements come as the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 13,500 monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States, with more than 39,000 cases reported worldwide as of Wednesday evening. There have been zero deaths in the US. Most monkeypox cases in the current outbreak have been linked to sexual activity. According to CDC guidance, “monkeypox can spread to anyone” through close contact, which is often skin-to-skin, as well as intimate contact that includes sex, hugging, massaging and kissing. Men who have sex with men are at high risk of contracting the virus.

In a briefing Thursday morning, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, White House monkeypox response coordinator Bob Fenton and CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will announce that HHS “has accelerated Phase 4 of its National Vaccine Strategy and will be making an additional 1.8 million doses available for ordering starting Monday,” the White House said in a fact sheet obtained first by CNN. That accelerated allocation phase will give states and jurisdictions more visibility into how much of the vaccine to expect as they make plans to distribute it.

The Biden administration is also providing more resources to local jurisdictions to help transition to the new type of injection to stretch out vaccine supply. The administration is encouraging states to provide the Jynneos vaccine intradermally — or between the layers of the skin — rather than subcutaneously, or under the skin, which would allow providers to stretch out the supply in one standard-dose vial. Los Angeles County in California and Fulton County in Georgia have both switched completely over to the intradermal vaccine, a White House official told CNN, as the administration is “providing technical assistance, support and resources to jurisdictions in the process of adopting and expanding intradermal administration.”

The officials will also unveil a new program aimed at reaching the populations at highest risk — gay and bisexual men — who have made up a majority of the confirmed cases so far.

“HHS is launching a pilot program to provide additional vaccine allocations to state and local health departments in jurisdictions that are hosting large events that attract gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in the coming weeks and months,” the fact sheet said, adding that 50,000 doses from the strategic national stockpile will be set aside for this purpose.

One of the upcoming events is the Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade this weekend in North Carolina. Officials acknowledge that this effort will not prevent spread around these events since the vaccine does not provide full immunity until two weeks after the second dose. But it is an effort to raise awareness and meet people where they are.

The CDC is also “offering assistance and support to jurisdictions to prepare for these large events, including helping develop vaccine and testing strategies to be stood up in and around these events, developing tools for information-gathering from event participants, and providing messaging and communications resources on vaccines, testing, and strategies to reduce one’s risk of contracting the virus,” the fact sheet said.

And officials will outline new efforts to make the treatment for monkeypox, Tpoxx, easier to access.

HHS’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response “will make available 50,000 patient courses of TPOXX to jurisdictions next week,” the fact sheet said. That allocation will rely on a formula based on 75% of the number of cases in a jurisdiction and 25% of the number of individuals at risk.