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White House to announce monkeypox vaccine strategy as U.S. cases climb

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The Biden administration plans to begin sending out tens of thousands of vaccine doses in an effort to control a record monkeypox outbreak that many experts say is far larger than the official count of 244 cases, according to four people who were not authorized to discuss the plan.

The vaccination strategy, set to be announced Tuesday evening, will focus on distributing doses to states with the highest number of confirmed cases of the disease, which is spread by close contact that can lead to fever, aches and a visible rash. Gay and bisexual men have disproportionately contracted the virus and remain especially vulnerable to infection, fueled by celebrations during Pride month, public health experts warn.

In most cases, monkeypox symptoms disappear on their own within a few weeks. But for those who are pregnant, children and people with weak immune systems, the disease can lead to medical complications, including death, according to the World Health Organization.

The administration plan includes distributing about 25,000 to 30,000 courses of its existing supply of the Jynneos vaccine, the only vaccine that federal regulators have specifically approved to prevent monkeypox, according to two public health officials briefed on the plan but not authorized to discuss it because of a pending administration announcement.

“Over the next week or so, the plan is to distribute some portion of the existing Jynneos, but not all of it, because they want to save doses for confirmed close contacts [of people who test positive for the virus],” one of the officials said.

As of June 14, the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile held more than 36,000 courses of Jynneos, a two-dose vaccine, in its inventory.

The White House declined to comment ahead of its forthcoming announcement.

For the first installment, the vaccine allocation will be based on each state’s confirmed cases as a ratio of its population deemed at risk of the disease. Men who have frequent sex with other men are believed at highest risk. The initial tier of recipients includes Hawaii, Massachusetts, Utah, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, California, Colorado and Florida and Washington, D.C., according to a draft distribution plan reviewed by The Post.

More Jynneos is set to be distributed in later July after the United States receives an additional 150,000 courses of the vaccine.

U.S. officials will also continue to make available more than 100 million doses of ACAM2000, an older vaccine that was approved to prevent smallpox. While the vaccine is also effective against monkeypox, it can cause serious side effects and cannot be used for people with severely weakened immune systems or eczema, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That vaccine is currently available to the states, a public health official said.

Public health experts have criticized the Biden administration’s response to the outbreak, saying that the slow rollout of testing and vaccines parallels some of the mistakes made in early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic first menaced the United States.

Advocates also are frustrated that the White House continues to rely on ACAM2000, the older vaccine that is considered less effective in fighting monkeypox, while officials wait for doses of the newer Jyennos vaccine to arrive from overseas, including more than 1 million doses being stored at Bavarian Nordic, the vaccine’s manufacturer in Denmark. The FDA still needs to conduct an inspection of the facility before those doses can be shipped to the United States, said two people who were not authorized to comment.

“What’s scary about it is [monkeypox] is much smaller than covid,” said James Krellenstein, co-founder of PrEP4ALL, an HIV-care nonprofit that has pressed state and federal officials to move faster on its monkeypox response. “We have more than a million doses of a vaccine, FDA approved for preventing monkeypox. And the U.S. government cannot figure out how to get it out of freezers in Denmark — doses that it owns — when there’s uncontained spread in the gay community. If this is a test run for pandemic preparedness, we are flunking.”

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