(The Hill) — The public health emergency over the mpox outbreak that began last year officially ended on Tuesday, with the number of reported cases continuing to decline and advocacy groups declaring the end of the emergency a victory for the LGBTQ community.
The Biden administration announced in December that it did not plan to renew the public health emergency (PHE) for mpox, formerly called monkeypox, which was first declared in August 2022. The PHE was renewed once in November.
“Since the beginning of the mpox outbreak, the Biden-Harris administration — working through HHS and many of its agencies — has pulled every lever to stop the spread of this virus,” a Department of Education spokesman said in a statement. health and human services.
“Given the low number of cases today, HHS has not renewed its emergency declaration. But we will not take our foot off the accelerator – we will continue to monitor case trends closely and encourage all people at risk to get a free vaccine,” the spokesperson said.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the seven-day rolling average for mpox cases is three, a steep drop from the peak in August cases with more than 400 reported on average each day.
Over the course of the outbreak, more than 30,000 cases and 26 deaths were reported in the United States. The vast majority of cases involved men.
Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, treatments believed to be effective against mpox were already available at the start of the outbreak and were readily distributed to high-risk populations, namely men who have sex with men.
The first cases detected outside non-endemic countries were in Europe and the virus, which belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, is believed to have spread through the social networks of gay and bisexual men.
Due to the closely related nature of mpox and smallpox, smallpox treatments and vaccines have been distributed, albeit with some bumps in the road. Jynneos, a new smallpox vaccine, has become the pre-eminent vaccination option for men who have sex with men to protect themselves from mpox. Antiviral treatments such as TPOXX or Tecovirimat have also become available.
However, many clinics found themselves inundated with concerned community members and were unable to meet requests for vaccinations and tests. The smallpox vaccine shortage became so severe that the United States eventually adopted a scaled-down vaccine strategy in which one-fifth of a standard two-dose vaccine would be administered intradermally to increase supply.
According to the most recent data from the CDC, approximately 1.18 million doses of smallpox vaccines were administered during the monkeypox outbreak.
During the vaccination campaign, health experts noted that the LGBTQ community was ready to deal with the viral epidemics due to the HIV crisis. Many gay and bisexual men knew how to mitigate the spread of viral diseases.
Federal health authorities would later attribute the early progress made in fighting the virus to the changed social practices of men having sex with men. A CDC survey found that half of men who have sex with men said they had reduced their levels of sexual activity in response to the mpox epidemic.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) praised the LGBTQ community for their efforts in reducing the mpox epidemic on Tuesday.
“Today, we enter the next phase of the ongoing fight to end Mpox and maintain the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people everywhere,” HRC chair Kelley Robinson said in a statement.
Sean Cahill, director of health policy research at the LGBTQ health advocacy organization, the Fenway Institute, similarly applauded the actions of community members in reducing mpox transmission.
“We commend the thousands of gay and bisexual men who have stood up for themselves, fought hard to get vaccinated and treated for mpox, and have taken other steps to reduce mpox transmission,” Cahill said. “We also commend the health care workers and public health officials at the local, state and federal levels who have worked hard to end this outbreak.”
However advocacy groups have warned that ending PHE did not mean the end of the problems associated with the mpox epidemic.
“Make no mistake, Mpox is still with us — and much the same with other health issues, it disproportionately impacts Black and Brown LGBTQ+ community members. We will work tirelessly to make sure as many people as possible stay healthy,” said Robinson.
Cahill noted that “in the first few months, it was too difficult to get a test, vaccine or treatment” and advised the United States to stick to the lessons of this outbreak.
A coalition of public health and LGBTQ advocacy groups, the National Mpox Working Group, sent a letter to President Biden on Tuesday, warning of the United States’ continuing “lack of readiness” for the next viral outbreak.
“Mpox was the first new national infectious disease to test many of the systems put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and offers a roadmap for preparing for the next outbreak,” the groups said.