The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Friday it does not expect to extend the public health emergency declaration for the monkeypox outbreak when it ends early next year, citing the low number of cases now being reported.
“Given the low number of cases today, HHS does not expect to need to renew the emergency declaration when it expires January 31, 2023. But we’re not letting go of the gas — we will continue to monitor case trends closely and encourage all at-risk individuals to get a free vaccine,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
HHS said this decision was based on “current data” and added that it would be “unafraid” to change course if conditions change in the future.
As with the COVID-19 public health emergency, HHS had said it would issue a 60-day notice on whether or not to extend the monkeypox emergency declaration as a courtesy to stakeholders and healthcare providers.
The declaration was extended once in Novemberwith Becerra citing the “lingering impact of an outbreak of monkeypox cases in multiple states.”
However, there were some indications that same month that the Biden administration was backing down on the national response to monkeypox. The White House had asked for $4.5 billion two months earlier to bolster the response to monkeypox, while hundreds of cases were still being reported every day.
But in November, the government cut its request for monkeypox funding to $400 million to restore the smallpox vaccines used for the response.
According to the most recent federal data, the seven-day rolling average for monkeypox cases is seven, a steep drop from when the average peaked at about 460 cases in early August.
The 2022 monkeypox outbreak was defined by its movement through the social networks of men who have sex with men. In the early months of the outbreak, many members of this community spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for vaccines, tests and treatments, leading to criticism from community members, lawyers and lawmakers.
Because there are no treatments created specifically for monkeypox, health officials in the US and abroad have deployed vaccines and treatments commonly used for smallpox, which are within the same family of viruses to which monkeypox belongs.
More than 1 million doses of the two-dose Jynneos smallpox vaccine have been administered in the US and nearly 6,300 patients have been prescribed the antiviral treatment TPOXX, an antiviral drug also intended for use in the treatment of smallpox.
In its statement, HHS referred to the U.S. progress in responding to the monkeypox outbreak as “virtually unheard of.”
“Over the next 60 days, we will focus on supporting jurisdictions and the Department to ensure that the expiration of the PGO will not hamper response efforts,” the agency said. “Mpox remains a priority for HHS and the administration more broadly, and we do not expect the expiration of the PHE to impact the administration’s ability to get vaccines, tests and treatment for affected individuals.”