Politics

“​​We must act now.”

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Rep. Ayanna Pressley and other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are pressing federal authorities for “aggressive action” as the outbreak of monkeypox grows in the commonwealth and across the country.

In a Monday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Pressley and her colleagues wrote that the country is at a “critical inflection point” in its response to the monkeypox outbreak. 

“The monkeypox outbreak is growing and threatening the health of our communities,” they wrote. 

Pressley and her colleagues urged federal officials to “rapidly increase vaccine distribution, ensure equitable access, and engage state and local leaders” in a public health campaign in order to prevent spread of the virus.

In addition to Pressley, senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. representatives James McGovern, Katherine Clark, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, Stephen F. Lynch, and William R. Keating all signed on to the letter.

Nationally, there are 3,487 cases of monkeypox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The lawmakers pointed out that the Bay State is among the states with the nation’s highest counts of confirmed cases, noting “many of our neighbors have contracted monkeypox.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed 30 new cases of monkeypox last week, bringing the Commonwealth’s total to 79. The state is among the handful receiving the limited supply of the vaccine, known as JYNNEOS, from the CDC.

There are currently 11 providers offering the vaccine in Massachusetts, but the shots are only being offered to individuals who work or live in the state who are at the most risk of exposure to someone with monkeypox. That includes those who have had close contact to someone with the virus, and those who have had multiple sexual partners in recent weeks in an area where the infection is known to be spreading. 

The public health department said it will expand eligibility if and when more doses are received from the CDC. 

Pressley and her colleagues said the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the “best defense against monkeypox is a coordinated campaign between the federal government and state and local stakeholders.”

“In order to meaningfully stop the virus from spreading in Massachusetts and throughout the country, there must be an intensification in testing, vaccinations, and public health education and greatly improved data tracking,” the lawmakers wrote.

“As HHS ramps up its efforts, we urge you act decisively and quickly in the interest of public health,” they wrote. “It is critical that HHS rapidly increases vaccine distribution, ensures equitable access, and engages state and local leaders in a comprehensive public health education campaign. Every person who is eligible to receive the monkeypox vaccine should be able to access it.”

The politicians said the shortage of vaccines must be immediately addressed and that communities disproportionately impacted should be prioritized for testing and vaccination. 

“Now is the time for aggressive action,” the politicians wrote. 

“​​We must act now,” Pressley wrote on Twitter. 

According to the state Department of Public Health, gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men continue to make up a large portion of the cases identified in the state, but the risk is not limited to the LGBTQ community. 

“​​Anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk,” the state said. 

The illness can be spread through direct contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, or by touching items that have been contaminated, according health officials. Less commonly, it can spread through respiratory droplets after “prolonged face-to-face contact.” But it is not spread through brief conversations or casual interactions, such as walking by an infected individual. 

Early symptoms of monkeypox include rash, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, and swollen lymph nodes. The rashes from the illness develop into lesions that start flat but become raised and filled with liquid. 

The CDC advises that anyone who believes they may have the virus wear a mask, cover any rash or lesions when around others, and contact a healthcare provider.

For more information on monkeypox and how it spreads, visit www.mass.gov/monkeypox and www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox.

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