The Department of Health and Human Services failed to ask for supplies of a vaccine to contain the growing surge of monkeypox during the early days of the outbreak, prompting deliveries to be pushed back until later this year, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Officials in the Biden administration told the newspaper that by the time the federal government placed orders for the vaccine from a manufacturer in Denmark, the company had already booked in other clients in countries dealing with their own outbreaks of the disease.
The U.S., which has invested more than $1 billion in development of the vaccine, will only be able to distribute about 1.1 million doses over the coming weeks, far short of the 3.5 million health officials say are needed, the Times added. An additional 500,000 doses are expected in the U.S. in October, but millions more on order likely won’t be delivered until sometime in 2023.
The U.S. currently has the highest number of confirmed monkeypox cases in the world after the first case was identified in May. There are more than 6,600 known infections, with more than a third of those occurring in New York and California. Cases so far have almost exclusively affected gay and bisexual men, but health officials stress that anyone can contract monkeypox, which is spread mainly through close physical contact.
There have been no deaths linked to monkeypox in the U.S.
The Biden administration has been criticized for stumbling in its response to the outbreak. The U.S. once had about 20 million doses of the vaccine stockpiled in freezers, but they were allowed to expire without being replenished. Hundreds of thousands of vials were sitting in Denmark in May when the outbreak hit American shores, but it took weeks for the government to request most of them.
The delay in delivery is presenting a new struggle that mirrors the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. effectively owns about 16.5 million doses of vaccine stored in Denmark by the manufacturer Bavarian Nordic, the Times reported. But the highly specialized process of getting those doses from bulk storage sites into individualized doses is limited, and other countries placed orders for the manufacturer to do so before the U.S. did.
Officials hope a domestic manufacturing company could speed up the timeline, but it is still expected to take months to get a plant on board.
The effort comes amid growing criticism that the U.S. hasn’t been doing enough to quickly contain the spread of the disease. Several states — New York, California and Illinois — have declared public health emergencies due to the monkeypox outbreak, and vaccine supplies are far behind demand.
Many high-risk people have struggled to find appointments, and some states have opted to give patients just one of the suggested two-dose regimen to make their vaccine supplies go further.
President Joe Biden tapped two senior emergency response officials to manage the government’s handling of the monkeypox outbreak. The White House said Robert Fenton, a regional administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former acting head of the agency, as the White House monkeypox coordinator. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who heads the Division of HIV Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will work as his deputy.