Biden administration asks state, local officials to boost monkeypox vaccine outreach

The federal government is working closely with local and state health departments to provide information and vaccines at large-scale events the LGBTQ community is expected to attend

By: and - August 18, 2022 3:09 pm
Health workers sit at a table at a pop-up monkeypox vaccination clinic which opened today by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health at the West Hollywood Library on Aug. 3, 2022, in West Hollywood, California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Aug. 1 over the monkeypox outbreak which continues to grow globally. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 03: Health workers sit at a table at a pop-up monkeypox vaccination clinic which opened today by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health at the West Hollywood Library on August 3, 2022 in West Hollywood, California. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on August 1st over the monkeypox outbreak which continues to grow globally. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Federal public health officials said Thursday they are working with state and local health departments to boost messaging and vaccinations for those most likely to contract monkeypox, including at large-scale events.

But Biden administration officials at a press briefing also struggled to explain differing statements about how the vaccines should be administered, a crucial part of the White House strategy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an emergency use authorization earlier this month to switch from giving the vaccine subcutaneously, the way most people are used to receiving a vaccine, to intradermally, or just below the skin.

Bavarian Nordic, the only company that makes the Jynneos vaccine, has raised concerns about the FDA decision, as have some local and state health departments. There is also not much data available yet on which jurisdictions are using the new strategy.

CEO Paul Chaplin sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf about the plan, according to The Washington Post.

He wrote that the company has “some reservations” on the intradermal approach, “due to the very limited safety data available (<200 people), the higher reactogenicity compared to the JYNNEOS standard dose and route (subcutaneous [SC]), and the fact that there was a relatively high percentage of subjects (20 percent) that failed to receive the second vaccination during a controlled clinical study.”

Reactogenicity refers to the body’s response to a vaccination, which can include pain or swelling at the injection side, as well as fever, muscle pain, or fatigue depending on the vaccine and the person receiving it.

But Biden administration officials during the press briefing defended their recommendation for a new way of administering shots, which is expected to provide up to five doses per vial instead of one, as safe and effective.

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the administration decided to switch the way health care providers administer the shot after some health departments began telling residents they would give one shot instead of the complete two-dose regimen in order to stretch out the limited vaccine supply.

“Some of this was in response to seeing additional use of a one-dose delayed strategy, which was … very concerning because of the absence of data and the emergence of some data to suggest that that might be a strategy that is not as effective as we would like it to be,” Marks said.

The switch from subcutaneous vaccination administration to intradermal, Marks said, was “done very carefully, with a lot of thought.”

“And we are working very actively to make sure the community has the information that we reviewed, and can see the thought process that we use to come to the conclusion that giving this intradermally provided the same kind of protection” as giving it by the subcutaneous route, Marks said.

Vaccines, info at events

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the federal government is working closely with local and state health departments to provide information and vaccines at large-scale events the LGBTQ community is expected to attend.

While anyone can get monkeypox, which spreads through close personal and often skin-to-skin contact, it has mostly affected the LGBTQ community.

So far, available data on the 13,517 U.S. cases of monkeypox, she said, show that 98 percent of cases are currently in men and that “among cases with known recent sexual history and gender, 93 percent of cases were among men who reported recent sexual contact with other men.”

Within the 6,000 cases with race and ethnicity data, Walensky said, 35 percent are among white people, 33 percent among Hispanic individuals and 28 percent among Black people.

The median age of those contracting monkeypox is 35, she said.

To try to curb the spread in the most affected communities, the federal government is launching a pilot program to provide additional vaccine doses to areas hosting events expected to draw many LGBTQ people.

The gatherings, she said, are expected to provide a chance for public health officials to explain the switch to intradermal vaccine administration and reiterate that people need to receive two doses

The CDC is asking local and state health departments in those areas to share “how they will promote education and awareness, as well as how they will address health equity in delivery of both messaging as well as vaccine.”

The CDC, she said, will also publish a “toolkit” to help public health officials prepare for those events.

Walensky stressed that since the vaccine is a two-dose regimen, “receiving the vaccine at these events will not provide protection at the event itself” and that anyone who traveled to an event must get the second dose after returning home.

But she also reiterated that CDC is still collecting data on how well the Jynneos vaccine, which was approved in 2019 to prevent smallpox and monkeypox, will work during this outbreak.

“To be clear, we’re learning how well these vaccines work against monkeypox and in this specific outbreak,” she said. “From what we know right now, we expect protection to be the highest two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine.”

While public health officials “anticipate vaccines will provide protection,” she said, “temporarily reducing or avoiding behaviors that increase your risk of monkeypox exposure is important, especially between your first and second doses of vaccine.”

In Pennsylvania

For additional information about monkeypox, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has created a webpage covering such topics as:

  • What you need to know about monkeypox, including prevention and symptoms
  • What you should do if you if you think you have developed monkeypox
  • How to get a monkeypox vaccine

State health officials stressed that, while the current risk of getting monkeypox is low, it is still a good idea for everyone, including college students, to know the facts about symptoms and what to do if they get sick. 

The CDC has created a specific monkeypox prevention page focusing on teens and young adults, as well as such congregate living settings as college campus housing, a state Health Department spokesperson told the Capital-Star. 

“College students who believe they have developed monkeypox, believe they have been exposed to monkeypox or believe they should be tested for monkeypox, should immediately contact their health care provider, the university’s student health services department, local health department or call the Pennsylvania Department of Health at 877-PA-HEALTH to help evaluate their risk and direct them to get tested or receive a vaccine, if needed,” the spokesperson, Mark O’Neil, said. “Local health care providers can host vaccine clinics as the need arises and are encouraged to work closely with colleges and universities to deploy resources as needed.”

Vaccine distribution

The federal government so far has distributed 700,000 vials of Jynneos nationwide, according to Dawn O’Co​nnell, assistant secretary for​ preparedness and response at HHS.

The federal government on Monday, she said, will make about 360,000 vials or up to 1.8 million more doses available for health departments to order.

The distribution of future vaccine doses will be contingent on local or state health departments adopting the new intradermal vaccine administration process and having used 90 percent of their previously allotted vaccines, according to Robert Fenton, the White House’s national monkeypox response coordinator.

The Biden administration doesn’t have particularly strong data on that, however.

Fenton and Walensky both said the information about which jurisdictions have switched and which have not is just starting to come in.

Walensky noted that CDC is continuing to provide information and training for health care providers who might not be experienced administering vaccines intradermally, adding that it’s crucial given the doses available.

“Ultimately, this is a precious resource we want to be used efficiently and wisely and that’s the purpose of this,” Walensky said. “So we’re really moving to get all jurisdictions to intradermal dosing.”

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.