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As monkeypox cases rise across the country, U.S. health officials plan to expand access to vaccinations against the virus.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced vaccinations will now be available to anyone with presumed exposure to the virus, in addition to individuals with known exposure who were already being offered immunizations.
“Within days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the United States, we quickly began deploying vaccines and treatment to help protect the American public and limit the spread of the virus,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP Monkeypox virions
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He continued, “While monkeypox poses minimal risk to most Americans, we are doing everything we can to offer vaccines to those at high risk of contracting the virus. This new strategy allows us to maximize the supply of currently available vaccines and reach those who are most vulnerable to the current outbreak.”
The department said it will release 56,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine immediately, with an additional 240,000 doses being made available in the coming weeks. In total, 1.6 million doses of the vaccine are expected by the end of the year.
Vaccines will now be available to individuals “who had close physical contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox, those who know their sexual partner was diagnosed with monkeypox, and men who have sex with men who have recently had multiple sex partners in a venue where there was known to be monkeypox or in an area where monkeypox is spreading,” according to the department’s press release.
The vaccine will be distributed using a four-tier strategy that prioritizes areas with the highest case rates of monkeypox. Within each tier, the allocation of doses will be determined by the number of individuals at risk for the virus who also have pre-existing conditions.
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“We have vaccines and treatments to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak thanks to years of sustained investment and planning,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell said in a statement.
She continued, “Our goal right now is to ensure that the limited supply of JYNNEOS vaccine is deployed to those who can benefit from it most immediately, as we continue to secure additional vaccine doses.”
In addition to the Jynneos vaccine, ACAM2000 — a smallpox vaccine — is also being made available but it is known to have “significant side effects is not recommended for everyone,” according the department.
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But the new vaccination strategy was criticized by experts who believe that more immunization is needed.
“Many of us are concerned that the window is closing for us to be able to eliminate monkeypox,” Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert and editor at large for public health at Kaiser Health News, told The New York Times.
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“If we don’t start vaccinating more quickly and broadly, we’re going to have a very difficult time containing this,” she added.
As of Wednesday, there are currently 305 confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2022 Monkeypox Outbreak Global Map.