US to add 1.8 million doses to monkeypox vaccine supply

US monkeypox cases now make up more than one-third of the global total, with more than 13,000 reported cases.

A person receives the monkeypox vaccine
A patient receives a monkeypox vaccination in New York in July. A new dosage technique has increased the number of available vaccine doses in the US [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

The Biden administration has announced that the US will bolster its supply of monkeypox vaccines with 1.8 million additional doses.

The extra JYNNEOS vaccines will be available to order beginning on August 22, the White House said on Thursday. Due to a newly authorised dosing technique, the 360,000 vials of vaccine to be distributed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will provide nearly two million doses.

“To date, the Biden-Harris Administration has delivered nearly 1 million doses of JYNNEOS vaccine to jurisdictions – the largest JYNNEOS MPV vaccine program in the world,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

The number of monkeypox cases has continued to climb in the US, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating that more than 13,500 cases had been reported as of August 17. US cases now represent more than one-third of the global total, and the Biden administration has been criticised for failing to ensure the availability of vaccines.

HHS secretary Xavier Becerra called ending the outbreak a “critical priority” for the administration in a statement earlier this week.

The White House also announced steps to make vaccines more available to members of high-risk communities and said Thursday that it will set aside 50,000 vaccine doses from the national stockpile for distribution at gay pride and other events.

The administration will also make 50,000 courses of SIGA Technologies Inc’s TPOXX antiviral treatment available for people who test positive, which state and local health departments can start ordering starting next week, said Bob Fenton, who is coordinating the administration’s monkeypox response.

While officials have stressed that monkeypox can infect anybody through things like prolonged skin-to-skin contact, men who have sex with men have been at especially high risk of infection, and have made up about 93 percent of US cases.

The United Nations has said that journalists and public health officials must take care to ensure that communication about the disease does not “reinforce homophobic and racist stereotypes” and the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that it will change the name of the disease, which some have accused of perpetuating stigma.

The WHO declared monkeypox an international health emergency towards the end of July. The US followed soon after, declaring a public health emergency on August 4.

That announcement took place after a number of municipalities, such as New York City and San Francisco, expressed frustration that they were not being supplied with enough vaccines to keep up with demand.

In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a federal health agency, announced last week that it had approved a new dosing technique that would increase available doses fivefold.

That method involves administering the vaccine “intradermally”, or between layers of skin, as opposed to “subcutaneously”, or below the skin. Administering the vaccine intradermally will allow medical workers to obtain five doses per vial of the JYNNEOS vaccine, which was approved for monkeypox prevention in 2019.

Fenton called that authorisation a “game changer” that would help the US scale up the number of doses. Commissioner of the FDA Robert Califf called the practice “safe and effective” and a 2015 study showed that intradermal administration results in only minor side effects, such as itchiness and redness after the shot.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies