As monkeypox continues to spread rapidly throughout the United States, today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is leading 8 of her Senate colleagues in calling on the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of and access to monkeypox vaccines. There are currently over 6,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, including several in children, and New York State has emerged as a center of the outbreak. Cases are expected to rise, but the U.S. does not currently have enough vaccines to protect all at-risk individuals. New York State has been allotted only 170,000 vaccine doses as demand continues to skyrocket. Invoking the Defense Production Act would give the president the authority to mandate that corporations and manufacturers accelerate production of this critical vaccine.
Today, Senator Gillibrand held a virtual press conference to speak on this issue and was joined by Dr. Jay Varma, Director of the Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response at Weill Cornell Medicine; Dr. Donald Chen, an infectious disease specialist and hospital epidemiologist at Westchester Medical Center; and Amanda Babine, Executive Director of Equality New York.
“Monkeypox is a serious threat to public health, and we need to be doing everything in our power to ensure that vaccines are widely available to those who need them,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We don’t have time to wait. I urge President Biden to immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up vaccine supply and keep our communities across our state and our country safe.”
“Monkeypox represents an acute threat to the health of Americans. While the outbreak is almost exclusively impacting gay men and their sexual health networks right now, there is no biological reason for it to stay that way. Vaccination is one of the most important ways that we can prevent infections, but it only works if there are vaccines available. I strongly support the Senator’s efforts to use all tools at the US governments disposal to increase the supply of monkeypox vaccines,” said Dr. Jay Varma, Director of the Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Vaccination is an effective method in slowing the spread of monkeypox,” said Donald Chen, MD, Hospital Epidemiologist, Westchester Medical Center. “The current monkeypox vaccine is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration and is one of the most fundamental ways to combat the further spread of monkeypox and to protect the health of New Yorkers. The Westchester County Department of Health provided vaccine doses to Westchester Medical Center and other sites around the county, and we here are offering safe and convenient monkeypox vaccinations to eligible community members as a drive-thru service by appointment only. For more information and to schedule a monkeypox vaccine appointment, visit WestchesterMedicalCenter.org/Monkeypox-Vaccine.”
“Right now, we are in a crucial place and need to act fast to stop the spread of Monkeypox. We are calling on the federal government to prioritize prevention and get more vaccines to New Yorkers. We are lucky to have Senator Gillibrand’s leadership and dedication to educating individuals on how to protect themselves and their communities,” said Amanda Babine, Executive Director Equality New York.
The letter was also signed by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
The full text of the letter is available here or below:
Dear President Biden,
We respectfully request for you to invoke your authorities granted under the Defense Production Act of 1950 (P.L. 81-774, 50 U.S.C. §§ 4501 et seq.) to increase the production of vaccines that target the monkeypox virus to halt the spread of a disease representing a public health emergency of international concern.
As of today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 6,326 known cases of monkeypox in the U.S., but we know there are more that are uncounted. We also know that the West African type of monkeypox is currently dominant in the U.S. and demonstrates a very low fatality rate but we need to be better prepared. COVID taught us that different variants demonstrate different behavior; some spread more easily and can depend on the mode of transmission and underlying immunity that can impact the severity of symptoms experienced. COVID vaccines demonstrated their effectiveness in curbing the deadly effects of a pandemic.
The World Health Organization indicates that monkeypox is currently endemic in 10 countries and the other type of monkeypox, Congo Basin type, has a nearly 10% fatality rate. The threat of the monkeypox virus and its spread demands greater attention. We urge you to act on the hard earned lessons from COVID and invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the accessibility of testing and vaccines to Americans.
Under the Defense Production Act, the President is given a broad set of authorities to assist domestic industry with solving critical national issues like the current shortage of vaccines effective against monkeypox. Under Title I of the Defense Production Act, you have the authority to require persons, businesses, and corporations to prioritize and accept contracts for vaccine production under both emergency and non-emergency conditions. Title III also allows you to direct the expansion of productive capacity and supply of vaccines by incentivizing the domestic industrial base when a critical shortage exists; while Title VII grants you the authority to establish voluntary agreements with private industry that could allow for the coordination of vaccine production. These authorities have been employed numerous times since the 1950s to supplement national stockpiles.
Thank you for all that you and your Administration have done thus far to bring awareness to monkeypox’s mounting threat to public health and our economy. We look forward to working with you and the Administration to address this urgent problem.