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Gillibrand seeks invocation of Defense Production Act for monkeypox vaccine

Monkeypox virus sample
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Monkeypox virus sample

New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling on President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase supply of monkeypox vaccine.

There are more than 6,000 confirmed cases of the monkeypox virus in the U.S., more than a quarter in New York.

On Thursday, the Biden administration declared MPV a public health emergency. The declaration makes available more federal resources to fight the virus including the development and distribution of vaccines, which are currently in short supply.

A day earlier, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, hosted a virtual press conference with health professionals urging the president to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase supply.

“We need a lot more vaccines. And we need them fast.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul in July signed an executive order declaring a State Disaster Emergency in response to the outbreak. The order is intended to increase testing and boost vaccine distribution.

New York is expected to receive 110,000 new doses of monkeypox vaccine from the federal government over the next several weeks, bringing the total to 170,000.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett says the state is targeting its distribution.

“There are vaccine distribution opportunities available to most of the counties. Additionally, we’re working to reach out to groups that we know are at higher risk. But the bottom line is we need more vaccine. No one is arguing with that,” said Bassett.

Although spread of the virus in the U.S. is primarily affecting gay men, Dr. Jay Varma, Professor of Population Health Studies at Cornell, says there’s no biological reason preventing it from spreading among the general public.

And, he says, even if the U.S. vaccinates enough people to stem the outbreak, the disease is spreading in other countries.

“And if there’s anything that Ebola and Zika and COVID have taught us, diseases don’t stay in one place. They always go around the world.”

Amanda Babine, Executive Director of Equality NY, says another part of the government’s response needs to be education.

“There’s a lot of miseducation out there on who exactly, as we know, it’s affecting and who it can and cannot affect. A lot of misinformation on people thinking or talking about this as an STI, which it is not. And so I think what we really need to be focusing on is that people understand how they can contract this and how to keep themselves safe,” said Babine.

Gillibrand explained that manufacturers have been identified and invoking the law would allow the country to build up its national stockpile of vaccine.

“The DPA gives the president powers to allocate materials, services and facilities and award contracts that take priority over any other contract to promote the national defense. In this case, much like the invocations of the DPA for COVID, the law could be used to prevent future spread of the virus,” said Gillibrand.

This week, the New York Times reported a 20-million-dose stockpile of smallpox vaccine that is also effective against monkeypox was allowed to expire.

Asked about the situation Wednesday, Gillibrand said she’s pushing for legislation that would create a 24/7, collocated working group for national security agencies to better respond to emerging health threats.

“And so, I don’t think it’s a criticism of this administration, I think it’s just we’re not built for pandemics. And we have not created the infrastructure to respond quickly to these fast-contracting diseases. So we need to rebuild how we look at these types of threats,” said Gillibrand.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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