The ongoing outbreak of monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization and by President Joe Biden, and the state's entire Congressional delegation this week urged Gov. Charlie Baker to do the same in Massachusetts.
The United States' first case of monkeypox this year was confirmed in Massachusetts in May and the Bay State counted a total of 174 cases as of Aug. 10, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the state Department of Public Health's most recent count was 157 cases). More than 10,390 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed around the country and the limited supply of a vaccine to protect against the virus has the federal government and states trying to figure out how to protect as many people as possible.
Monkeypox is rarely fatal, and there have been no deaths in the U.S. during the current outbreak. As of Friday, 12 people had died worldwide from monkeypox this year, data from the CDC showed.
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In a letter dated Monday, the 11 members of the state's all-Democrat Congressional delegation said that monkeypox is "a significant threat to the health of our communities" and called on the Republican governor to take the same step that the WHO and Biden have taken, saying that "current case counts underscore the need to quickly test, vaccinate, and treat high-risk communities, collect, and disclose demographic data, and embark on a multilingual and destigmatizing public education campaign."
"The response to the coronavirus pandemic proved that delayed decision making will only exacerbate the outbreak and threaten the health of the public. Hence, we urge you to demonstrate bold leadership and swift action by recognizing MPV as the public health emergency it is," the delegation wrote in the letter spearheaded by U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Seth Moulton.
They also wrote about Baker declaring a public health emergency, "By doing so at the state level, you will unlock resources to ensure that residents receive the urgent and robust response the moment demands," the delegation wrote.
But Baker's administration disagrees and said in response to the Congressional letter that "Massachusetts is implementing a robust public health response for monkeypox, and nothing outlined in this letter would provide any additional resources."
"The issue for states is the severely limited supply of vaccines that is being allocated by the federal government," the Baker administration said in a statement provided on the condition that it not be attributed to a specific spokesperson. The statement added, "DPH has worked closely with local health departments and health care providers across Massachusetts, particularly in targeted communities like Provincetown and Boston, to promote vaccination, to amplify public awareness and messaging and to provide public health guidance about symptoms, spread, and how residents can protect themselves. This includes messaging to local health officials who know their communities best and working closely with community-based organizations, especially those who serve the LGBTQ+ community."
The Baker administration also pointed to its new "first dose prioritization vaccination strategy" that began Monday as "an important step in that process as it increases the number of people who can receive vaccine."
Following the federal government's lead, DPH this week began recommending that providers limit vaccine administration to a first dose of JYNNEOS, a two-dose vaccine licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. DPH is also evaluating how it will distribute the vaccine doses it has in light of the FDA's approval of an alternative vaccination approach that allows health care providers to administer the JYNNEOS vaccine intradermally -- between layers of the skin rather than into the muscle or fat beneath. That would allow what is currently a single dose to be split into five, greatly expanding the number of people who could be protected by the current supply of the vaccine.
Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke said Wednesday that DPH is "evaluating our supply right now and we likely will be announcing in the short-term what our next moves will be on that."
There were 14 locations across Massachusetts where the JYNNEOS vaccine was available to eligible individuals and 5,875 doses had been administered here as of Aug. 3, DPH said. The federal government said it shipped 16,251 doses of the vaccine to Massachusetts as of Aug. 8.