By Nathalie Voit

The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on August 4.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters during a press conference on Thursday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 7,102 confirmed cases of monkeypox/orthopoxvirus in the United States. All but two states (Montana and Wyoming) have reported infections.

Monkeypox primarily spreads through sexual contact. According to the CDC, the LGBTQI+ community is at the highest risk of infection. Public health officials say about 99% of confirmed cases reported to clinics in the U.S. were among men who have sex with men. However, it is possible to catch the disease via close physical contact with an infected individual or contaminated object–although experts say this mode of transmission is extremely rare.

Thursday’s declaration is intended to bolster the federal response to the virus, which many noted was lagging seriously behind.

On August 2, President Biden created a National Monkeypox Response Team to combat the outbreak. The President appointed Robert Fenton of FEMA as the White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator and CDC Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention Demetre Daskalakis as the deputy coordinator.

Fenton and Daskalakis will lead a comprehensive strategy to eradicate the virus and protect vulnerable communities. They will oversee the vaccination campaign for at-risk individuals and be responsible for distributing tests and treatments.

“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis as we work to end the monkeypox outbreak in America,” Becerra said about the newly created panel of public health experts. “Bob’s experience in federal and regional response coordination and Demetre’s vast knowledge of our public health systems’ strengths and limits will be instrumental as we work to stay ahead of the virus and advance a whole-of-government response.”

The federal government has delivered 602,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, Jynneos, to states and jurisdictions. Jynneos is the only FDA-approved vaccine for monkeypox.

The U.S. has also made available 1.1 million doses of the vaccine to state and city health departments and is ramping up supply to keep up with demand, according to a statement from HHS.

“Ending the monkeypox outbreak is a critical priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. We are taking our response to the next level by declaring a public health emergency,” Secretary Becerra said. “With today’s declaration we can further strengthen and accelerate our response further.”

The U.S. monkeypox outbreak is one of the largest in the world, accounting for about 25% of all reported cases worldwide. In total, there are 26,864 confirmed cases of the virus across 88 countries, according to CDC data.