Feds express ‘cautious optimism’ over decline in new U.S. cases of monkeypox

Still, they recognize need for more equitable vaccine distribution

By: - September 15, 2022 5:06 pm

Blood sample tube positive with Monkeypox virus. Credit: Getty Images

Federal health authorities on Thursday credited vaccination programs targeted to individuals at high risk and other efforts to educate Americans for the decline in monkeypox cases in many parts of the country.

But officials also pledged more equity in providing access to the vaccine against the disease spreading in Florida and nationwide.

CDC data document a downward trend in new U.S. cases, based on the agency’s report on monkeypox trends in the United States. For instance, 78 new cases were reported on Wednesday, compared to 218 the day before. In August, daily case counts were higher, with 923 new cases reported on Aug. 22 and 636 on Aug. 23.

The Biden administration and officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touted success of the initiative that distributed the Jynneos vaccines at large gatherings and events , such as the recent Atlanta Black Pride celebration and the Oakland Pride in California.

“By vaccinating thousands of people at high-risk who might not otherwise have gotten a shot, this program is working to advance equity and combat this outbreak,” Bob Fenton, White House monkeypox response coordinator, said during a virtual press conference.

“We continue to build on this work by making additional vaccines available for large and small equity interventions across the country.”

‘Cautious optimism’

Overall, CDC data show 22,774 monkeypox cases across the nation and 59,029 global cases “in locations that have not historically reported monkeypox,” as of Wednesday.

“Over the last several weeks we’ve been pleased to see a decline in the growth of new cases here and abroad, though there are areas of the United States where the rate of rise in new cases is still increasing,” Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said during the press event.

“We approach this news with cautious optimism. It is a result of education efforts; the work being done to vaccinate at-risk individuals and people who have made informed decisions to make temporary changes to their behaviors to protect themselves and their communities.”

Although new cases have been decreasing in the United States and worldwide, infections have increased among non-Hispanic Black men and Latino men, representing 38 and 25 percent of cases, respectively.

Initially, officials had seen the illness “predominantly in non-Hispanic white men,” Walensky said. “We continue to monitor data on this outbreak.”

In Florida, there have been 2,328 cases across 41 counties, according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Health. South Florida has the most infections, with Miami Dade County reporting 787 and Broward County reporting 647.

Another White House official noted that 61 percent of those diagnosed with monkeypox either had HIV or another sexually transmitted infection.

Who is getting vaccinated?

Despite increases in infections among Black and Hispanic men, those groups represent low percentages of people receiving their first dose of the vaccine against the disease that usually causes a painful rash and other flu-like symptoms but can prove fatal.

A death due to monkeypox in a person who was severely immunocompromised was confirmed in Los Angeles County, Calif. this week, the first known U.S.  death. And deaths have been reported in countries worldwide.

In fact, non-Hispanic Black men only represent about 12 percent and Hispanic men represent about 21 percent of vaccinations, compared to white men who represent 47 percent of those who have received a first dose, Walensky said.

“It is critical that education, vaccinations, testing, and treatment are equally accessible to all populations, especially to those most affected by this outbreak,” she said.

That said, the CDC will address disparities in vaccine distribution through its Monkeypox Vaccine Equity Pilot Program, according to a press release Thursday.

The new program is intended to “reach populations that may face barriers to monkeypox vaccination, which may include differences in language, location of vaccination sites, vaccine hesitancy, mistrust of government, lack of access to on-line scheduling technology, accessibility/disability issues, immigration status, and stigma,” according to the CDC.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.

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