White House pledges more vaccines for monkeypox infections

The Biden administration has launched a vaccination campaign against monkeypox, making nearly 300,000 shots available in the coming weeks. There are around 350 known cases of the virus in the U.S., and zero deaths, but there are concerns about its spread. Joseph Osmundson, a molecular microbiologist at New York University and author of “Virology,” joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Biden administration has launched a vaccination campaign against monkeypox, making nearly 300,000 shots available in the coming weeks.

    There are around 350 known cases of the virus in the U.S. and zero deaths so far, but there are concerns about its spread and whether the administration is doing enough.

    Stephanie Sy has our look.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, monkeypox is endemic to parts of central and West Africa, but was found in the U.S. just about six weeks ago.

    It spreads through close contact, which would obviously include sex or kissing. Gay men and other men who have sex with men make up many of the cases that have been identified, and some have posted about their symptoms on TikTok.

  • Person:

    It was so painful, I had to go to my doctor and get painkillers just to be able to go to sleep.

  • Person:

    A couple of days ago, I woke up with some swollen lymph nodes and then throughout the day started to become increasingly fatigued, developed some chills and then started to break out in some weird spots.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    For more on all of this, I'm joined by Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at New York University and author of the new book "Virology: Essays for the Living, the Dead, and the Small Things in Between."

    Joe, thanks so much for joining the "NewsHour."

    I was watching some of those TikTok videos. And one of them said he was sharing his monkeypox experience to reduce stigma.

    I want to start there. Is stigma something that a lot of people are worried about with this?

  • Joseph Osmundson, New York University:

    Yes, thank you so, so much for having me, and of course.

    This is primarily impacting the queer community right now. It's being spread by our social and sexual networks. And it's a virus that's new, at least in this context, and has really been understudied because of the regions where it's been common for decades. There's so much we don't know.

    So it's frightening when a new virus comes into our community, in our population. And we want to make sure we get the best information out there and also have the best access in our community to what people need. They need tests. They need treatment, and we need vaccine to stop the spread.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    All right, let's talk about vaccines for a minute, because the Biden administration this week announced a national vaccination campaign, but it is limited.

    Only 56,000 doses of a new vaccine, JYNNEOS, have been made immediately available. There will be more to come in coming weeks. And then there's another older vaccine, ACAM2000. That's also been approved for use.

    Can you just break down, Joe, for us who is eligible for these vaccines? And what role does that older vaccine for smallpox, what role does that play in this current outbreak?

  • Joseph Osmundson:

    Yes, that's a great question.

    It's called ACAM2000. And I'm going to first focus on JYNNEOS, which is sort of a very modern, really, really safe vaccine. And our argument is that we need to get — those doses do no good in a Bethesda storage unit. They need to get into arms as quickly as possible. Those doses do no good in Sweden. We need to get them here as fast as possible, use that front-line best vaccine that is super safe, and start protecting people on the ground.

    Again, we know what we know. We know this virus is currently popping up mostly, but not exclusively in the queer community, in men and other folks who are connected to us by our social and sexual networks.

    So those are the people we're targeting for our first round of vaccination. But this type of virus that spreads through such close contact, I would be shocked if we don't see this in a wrestling team in Washington state come fall, right?

    We see these patterns where a disease first emerges or is detected in a small community, but, of course, there's much more spread than that we don't know about yet.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And we should say that the monkeypox is in the smallpox family. So those two vaccines are basically smallpox vaccines. The older vaccine has been known to have more severe side effects for those that are immunocompromised.

    So, your point gets to my next question, which is, does the current public health response to this in the U.S. seem adequate at this point? We're talking about 350 cases or so, but zero deaths.

  • Joseph Osmundson:

    So the illness is mild, by public health definitions, in that it isn't seeming to leading to hospitalization or death.

    But, as you saw in the clip — someone I know had monkeypox recently, and it hurts. It's very, very unpleasant. And so we have been seeing this disconnect, particularly with the federal response, where we have people in our community who are getting ill. And there's vaccines sitting on the shelves. There's drugs in the stockpile.

    And those drugs, you have to be enrolled through a clinical trial. How many doctors out there in America know how to enroll their patient in a clinical trial and do all the paperwork fast enough to get them access to that drug that means they may not suffer as badly for as long?

    So we do think that there is an urgency lacking. We expect these things to change. Right now, in America, no tests, no vaccinations, no drugs. We know there are plans that, in a month's time, that should shift. And we hope that we continue figuring out not just where this virus is, but the places where it might go and hide, people who are outside of access to health care, and then not forget that there's a region where this virus is endemic.

    And people in those regions also deserve access to vaccine treatment and care.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    All right, well, there are a lot of questions that remain in this developing story.

    Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at NYU, we appreciate you joining the "NewsHour" with your insights.

  • Joseph Osmundson:

    Thank you so much.

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