'Every American should pay attention on monkeypox’: HHS secretary

Xavier Becerra's statement is the strongest-worded to date about the virus as vaccines clear red tape
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. Photo credit Alex Wong/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — One day after the White House press secretary said she didn’t know anything about a promising treatment for monkeypox held in the federal stockpile, a top U.S. official issued the administration's strongest message yet on the virus.

“Every American should pay attention on monkeypox,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a call with reporters.

“Our goal is pretty straightforward. Stay ahead of the virus. And end this outbreak,” Becarra added.

While Becerra noted monkeypox isn’t anywhere near as deadly as COVID-19, “It is contagious. It is painful, and it can be dangerous,” he said.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

Cases have increases fivefold here in Philadelphia over the last month. Currently, the vast majority of monkeypox cases are currently among gay and bisexual men.

Becerra added they want their response to be as “quick and nimble as possible” as they work to stay ahead of the virus and to end the outbreak.

780,000 vaccine doses that the U.S. owned had been tied up in red tape for several weeks, but they are finally going out this week. That nearly triples the amount of vaccine already distributed to health departments across the country, though it's unclear how many have been administered.

A drug called TPOXX has shown to be an effective treatment for the virus, with patients anecdotally reporting a near-immediate improvement to the painful lesions. The country has a strategic stockpile of 1.7 million courses of TPOXX in case of a smallpox outbreak.

It’s been challenging for people to get the medication, as it required hours of paperwork to get it released from the federal stockpile. Many doctors didn’t even know about it.

When White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked Wednesday about those challenges, she said she was unaware of them.

“I don’t know much about this medicine that you speak of.”

But the CDC relaxed the process to get it last week. They are now working to spread the word to doctors about the availability of TPOXX prescriptions.

Becerra said education is key to containing the virus, adding earlier this week that the CDC held a call with 10,000 clinicians to provide information about monkeypox.

Vaccination appointments can be scheduled in Philadelphia by calling the Department of Public Health hotline at 215-685-5488. Vaccines have also been provided to certain health care providers, including Penn Medicine, Drexel, the Mazzoni Center, and Philadelphia FIGHT, to be provided to existing patients at high risk.

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