May 23, 2022 – President Joe Biden said Monday that he didn’t believe quarantines to prevent the spread of monkeypox in the U.S. would be necessary.
He said the U.S. has enough vaccine doses available to stop any serious outbreaks and to “deal with the likelihood of the problem,” according to The Washington Post.
“I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19, and the smallpox vaccine works for it,” Biden said during a news conference in Japan.
The World Health Organization has identified monkeypox cases in at least a dozen countries where the disease isn’t typically considered endemic. Generally found in Central and West Africa, the illness has been reported in several European countries, as well as the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
On Sunday, Biden told reporters that monkeypox is a “concern in that if it were to spread, it would be consequential.” Administration officials have said the president has been briefed on the disease, the newspaper reported.
Monkeypox spreads through droplets and bodily fluids but doesn’t pass easily between humans and is less contagious than the coronavirus, the Post reported. The CDC has reported that the smallpox vaccine is 85% effective against monkeypox, and the U.S. has licensed two smallpox vaccines that could help in potential outbreaks, including one that specifically targets monkeypox.
Mandatory Monkeypox Quarantine in Belgium
Belgium is the first country to put a mandatory 21-day quarantine in place for monkeypox patients as cases spread globally, according to CNBC. Health authorities announced the quarantine on Friday after the country recorded its third case.
The quarantine only applies to patients with a confirmed infection. Close contacts aren’t required to self-isolate but are encouraged to be careful and watch for symptoms, especially if they spend time with vulnerable people who could contract a serious illness, CNBC reported.
The U.K. has published guidelines to assess risks of monkeypox infection and provide guidance on self-isolation and monitoring. Health officials have said that those who have high exposure risks should self-isolate for 21 days, which includes household contacts or medical professionals who have worked with infected patients.
As of Saturday, the WHO has received reports of 92 confirmed monkeypox cases and 28 suspected cases across 12 countries where the virus isn’t typically found. No deaths linked to the cases have been reported so far.
The outbreaks have caused concern among health officials because most cases don’t have travel links to endemic countries. So far, many cases have spread between men who have sex with men, and the cases have been identified as patients seek care in primary care and sexual health clinics, the WHO reported.
“The identification of confirmed and suspected cases of monkeypox with no direct travel links to an endemic area represents a highly unusual event,” the WHO said. “Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic.”
The WHO said Saturday that more outbreaks will be reported as health officials uncover new information. The fast growth in community cases, especially in urban areas, suggests that a wider outbreak could be possible.
“To have it appear now – more than 100 cases in 12 different countries with no obvious connection – means we have to figure out exactly what’s happening,” Seth Berkley, MD, the CEO of global vaccine alliance Gavi, told CNBC.
“The truth is, we don’t know what that is and therefore how severe it’s going to be,” he said. “But it’s likely that we’re going to see more cases.”
White House Health Official Doesn’t Foresee Major Outbreak
Ashish Jha, MD, a top Biden administration health official who serves as the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said Sunday that he doesn’t expect monkeypox to have widespread effects in the U.S.
“I feel like this is a virus we understand,” he said on ABC News’s This Week.
The virus has been monitored for decades, and there are treatments for it, Jha said.
“We have vaccines against it. We have treatments against it,” he said. “It’s not as contagious as COVID. So, I am confident we’re going to be able to keep our arms around it.”
At the same time, Jha agreed that health officials should keep an eye on the situation. Cases have been confirmed in recent days in several countries, as well as the U.S.
“I would not be surprised if we see a few more cases in the upcoming days,” he said. “Any time we have an infectious outbreak like this, we should all be paying attention.”
Jha also stressed ongoing caution amid the COVID-19 pandemic as cases once again surpass 100,000 daily infections. Variants will continue to evolve, he said, and ongoing outbreaks will reinfect people who have been vaccinated or had a previous infection.
“What we know is that this virus is evolving very quickly, and every iteration of it has more and more immune escape,” he said. “That makes it harder for this virus to be contained unless we continue vaccinating people and keeping people up to date.”
Third Possible U.S. Monkeypox Case Found in Florida
The CDC said Sunday that it may have found a third monkeypox case in the U.S. and is running tests on a patient in South Florida, according to Reuters.
The person is in Broward County, FL, and remains isolated. The case appears to be related to international travel, the CDC told Reuters.
Health officials are doing tests to confirm if the patient has the disease, with results expected “soon.” No other cases have been identified in Florida so far.
The first monkeypox case in the U.S. was reported in Massachusetts last week. The patient had recently traveled to Canada.
The second U.S. case was reported in a New York City resident who tested positive on Friday.
The disease, which is like human smallpox but milder, is a viral infection that was first found in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. Symptoms include fever, headaches, and a skin rash across the body.