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Monkeypox cases are rising in the U.S. What's being done to stop the outbreak?


Meantime, the U.S. is now racing to blunt another outbreak. Monkeypox case counts are rising quickly here in the United States. Nearly 5,000 have already been reported. And health officials say every American ought to be taking notice. The White House is trying to keep an eye on the situation. I asked NPR's Pien Huang how she sees the Biden administration's strategy.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: The main strategy seems to be vaccinating enough people at high risk to stop the outbreak. And that's been hard since the U.S. started with a very limited number of monkeypox vaccine doses. The situation is getting better. The administration has now shipped more than 300,000 doses of the vaccine to states and territories. And yesterday, they said that they were getting more shots. So that means, in total, 1.1 million doses will have come online as of this weekend. And they say more doses are coming.

KHALID: And it does seem like the administration is focusing quite a bit of its effort on vaccines. Do you feel like that is enough at this point to really get the outbreak under control?

HUANG: Well, it's hard to say. And it's hard to say how long it will take. In fact, federal health officials were asked how many people needed to get vaccinated to stop the outbreak, and they didn't give a hard number. Part of the reason is that we don't actually know the full scope of the outbreak right now. The official case count is almost 5,000, but there are definitely more cases. And even though testing has improved this month, every person with a new rash is not necessarily getting tested for monkeypox. You know, they might not know where to go. They might not have a doctor. Or their doctor might not know to test for it. Or they might not be able to afford it. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said vaccines won't be enough on their own.

XAVIER BECERRA: We believe that we have done everything we can at the federal level to work with our state and local partners in communities affected to make sure we can stay ahead of this and end this outbreak. But everybody's got to take the oar and row.

HUANG: By everybody, he's talking about state and local health officials and the communities at risk, which so far have mostly been men who have sex with men. And what will these preventative measures look like? He didn't actually elaborate. But health experts say this generally includes contact tracing, finding and treating cases early and isolating people with monkeypox for the several weeks when they're infectious.

KHALID: You know, you mentioned state officials. So what do states actually think about this?

HUANG: Well, I asked Dr. Marcus Plescia. He's with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. And he says, metaphorically, states have grabbed the oars.

MARCUS PLESCIA: We're all rowing as hard as we can. And, you know, I think states do feel like the government - the federal government is doing everything they can to procure a vaccine. But, you know, we can't give out vaccines that we don't have.

KHALID: Pien, we have now seen local emergency declarations. What kind of difference would any sort of national emergency declaration make?

HUANG: Yeah. The White House is now considering whether it rises to the level of a federal public health emergency. And that would open up more funding and resources for the monkeypox response. Lindsay Wiley, a health law professor at UCLA, says it would also put people on alert.

LINDSAY WILEY: A federal public health emergency declaration, any emergency declaration, also has a signaling effect to the public in terms of, you know, take this seriously. Educate yourself about the risks.

HUANG: It would also allow them to appoint a monkeypox czar to coordinate the response, among other things.

KHALID: NPR's Pien Huang. Thanks so much.

HUANG: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.