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US declares public health emergency over monkeypox outbreak, as WA state distributes vaccines

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Monkeypox

Daniel Rofin, 41, receives a vaccine against monkeypox from a health professional July 26 in Barcelona, Spain.

The federal government declared a public health emergency Thursday to bolster the response to the monkeypox outbreak that has infected more than 6,600 Americans.

The announcement will free up money and other resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In Washington, monkeypox cases are doubling roughly every seven to eight days, said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer, in a media briefing Thursday. Statewide, 166 people have tested positive, with 144 of those cases in King County, according to the Department of Health. As of Thursday, Cowlitz County has recorded one case in an adult man who was not hospitalized.

Monkeypox

Jonathan Parducho, a pharmacist, removes a tray of vials of of the Jynneos vaccine for monkeypox July 29 at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in San Francisco. 

State officials do not have “imminent” plans to declare a public health emergency but are closely monitoring the situation, said Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health.

“Right now we’re at a point where we continue to be able to have the flow of information, the flow of resources we need in order to be able to respond effectively for our state,” he said.

If transmission changes or increases dramatically, the state may declare an emergency, Shah said.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. The people who have gotten sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone.

The declaration by the federal Department of Health and Human Services comes as the Biden administration has faced criticism over monkeypox vaccine availability. Clinics in major cities such as New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supply of first doses.

The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses available and has helped to boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

In the state and nationwide, vaccine supply is limited. The state Department of Health has ordered and distributed about 6,800 doses, 96% of the state’s initial vaccine allocation, said Michele Roberts, assistant secretary for prevention and health. Washington was allocated 17,200 additional doses and is ordering the first batch of 6,900 doses this week, Roberts said.

The vaccine includes two doses taken 28 days apart. Roberts said since vaccine supply is limited, the state is working to get as many first doses out to those at risk before distributing second doses. Those with direct exposure to someone who tested positive for monkeypox are highest priority for vaccination, followed by those at high risk of exposure, such as people who were in the same setting as an infected person, Roberts said.

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