The Biden administration will end the public health emergency declared in response to the monkeypox outbreak, as new infections have declined dramatically and vaccination rates have increased.
The Health and Human Services Department does not expect it will renew the emergency declaration after it expires on Jan. 31 “given the low number of cases today,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday.
“But we won’t take our foot off the gas — we will continue to monitor the case trends closely and encourage all at-risk individuals to get a free vaccine,” he said. “As we move into the next phase of this effort, the Biden-Harris Administration continues working closely with jurisdictions and partners to monitor trends, especially in communities that have been disproportionately affected.”
Becerra declared an emergency in August in an effort to accelerate a vaccination and education campaign as the virus was spreading swiftly in the gay community. The spread of the virus, dubbed “mpox” on Monday by the World Health Organization in order to reduce stigma associated with its name, has slowed drastically since.
Mpox has infected nearly 30,000 people and killed 15 in the U.S. since health officials confirmed the first domestic case in May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. outbreak is the largest in the world.
But infections have slowed dramatically since August, when new cases peaked at 638 per day on average. The U.S. is currently averaging about seven new cases a day, according to CDC data.
U.S. health officials have said the outbreak has slowed because vaccinations have increased dramatically, and people have changed their behavior in response to education campaigns about how to avoid infection.
The vaccination campaign got off to a rocky start, with limited supplies resulting in long lines at clinics and protests in some cities. But vaccinations increased significantly after the White House created a task force and HHS declared a public health emergency.
More than 1.1 million doses of the Jynneos vaccine have been administered in the U.S. since the summer. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said about 1.7 million gay and bisexual people who are HIV positive or are taking medication to prevent HIV infection are at highest risk from mpox.
Mpox has spread primarily through sexual contact among men who have sex with men. The virus causes rashes resembling pimples or blisters that can develop in sensitive areas and be very painful. Though mpox is rarely fatal, people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of severe disease.
The CDC, in a report published in late October, said it is unlikely the U.S. will eradicate mpox in the near future. The virus will probably continue to circulate at low level primarily in communities of men who have sex with men, according to CDC. Though anyone can catch mpox, there’s little evidence of the virus spreading widely in the general population so far, according to CDC.
The global mpox outbreak this year is the largest in history with more than 80,000 confirmed cases in more than 100 countries. The current outbreak is highly unusual because the virus is spreading widely between people in Europe and North America.
Historically, mpox spread at low levels in remote areas of West and Central Africa where people caught the virus from infected animals.