NEW JERSEY — As cases of monkeypox continue to rise both globally and in the United States, orthopox virus vaccines are being made more readily available in the United States to those most at risk, according to federal public health officials.
The vaccine will not be available to everyone. The Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday it prioritizes areas with the highest number of cases and most at risk for the disease.
As of Wednesday morning, there are 4,769 known cases of monkeypox worldwide, including 305 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Tuesday night, New Jersey has two confirmed cases, but four possible infections. But rising case totals in New York City and a lack of reporting of test availability in the United States could pose problems for the Garden State.
New York City’s number of suspected monkeypox cases nearly doubled in five days, totaling 55 as of Wednesday, according to local health authorities. In the United States, officials have confirmed 305 cases linked to the outbreak, which has induced 4,769 infectionsaround the world as of Tuesday evening, according to the CDC.
Public-health experts expressed worries to The Washington Post that the Biden administration’s response to the U.S. monkeypox outbreak has mirrored the federal government’s missteps from early in the COVID-19 pandemic under the Trump administration. As a result, the lack of testing availability has left community transmission largely undetected, and the critical window to control the outbreak is closing quickly, experts said.
“It’s been unbelievably challenging,” Lauren Sauer, director of the Special Pathogens Research Network, told The Washington Post. “It felt like January 2020 all over again.”
Monkeypox, which is usually contained to central and west Africa, is a rare but potentially serious viral illness that typically spreads by skin-to-skin contact. Infections can cause flu-like symptoms as well as swelling of the lymph nodes and a rash. The rash usually contains bumps that initially fill with fluid before scabbing over, according to the CDC.
The symptoms could be confused with those of chicken pox or a sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis or herpes. Infections can last up to four weeks.
Monkeypox and smallpox are both orthopoxviruses, and smallpox vaccines are effective against preventing the disease.
In areas with highest transmission, roughly 300,000 vaccines will be available in the coming weeks and another 750,000 doses will be available over the summer, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The vaccine that will be provided is the JYNNEOS vaccine, which is approved by the FDA to prevent smallpox, monkeypox and other diseases caused by orthopoxviruses.
Officials plan on allocating doses based on a four-tier system — prioritizing jurisdictions with the highest case rates and within each tier, vaccines will be distributed based on the number of people at risk for monkeypox who also have pre-existing conditions like HIV. Those who’ve had confirmed or a presumed exposure to monkeypox will also be prioritized.
“We are focused on making sure the public and health care providers are aware of the risks posed by monkeypox and that there are steps they can take — through seeking testing, vaccines and treatments — to stay healthy and stop the spread,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement.
An older smallpox vaccine is in greater supply and health jurisdictions have the option of requesting shipments. However, the department warns that the vaccine has significant side effects and is not recommended for everyone.