Gillibrand calls on Biden to invoke Defense Production Act for more monkeypox vaccines

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a virtual press conference to demand more action from the Biden administration in response to rising cases of monkeypox. Screenshot by Alexandra O’Connor

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) held a virtual press conference Wednesday to call on the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to increase the domestic supply of vaccines in order to halt the spread of monkeypox virus.

Recognized as the epicenter of the virus, the first case in New York City was reported in May and as of today, there are 1,558 confirmed cases in New York City and over 6,000 known cases of monkeypox across the country. The virus is known to be a less severe form of smallpox, 

Gillibrand made this request to the Biden administration in a letter sent today and co-signed by eight of her colleagues to both ramp up public pressure and to raise awareness about the virus, as well as compelling the federal government to take this step. 

“I think it’s just we’re not built for pandemics and we have not created the infrastructure to respond quickly to these kinds of fast contracting diseases,” according to the Senator who says is it necessary for the federal government to invoke the DPA, just as they did in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cases are expected to rise, and New York State has been allotted 170,000 vaccine doses and 80,000 will be allotted to New York City. The DPA will allow the President to issue “rated” or top-priority contracts to the vaccine manufacturers to build national stockpiles. 

“The most relevant DPA actions, in this case would be for the administration to issue a rated order to manufacturers to have what’s called the JJYNNEOS and the ACAM2000 vaccines to build national stockpiles,” said Gillibrand, who expects it would take just weeks from the DPA invocation for the vaccines to be readily available. 

The majority of cases are in adult men and men who have sex with men are at higher risk of expsosure due to spread within these social networks. Advocates from this community and local officials have voiced their criticisms of the government’s response while testing and vaccines continue to be inaccessible months after the outbreak was first detected. 

There are no open appointments for the two-dose vaccinations in New York City for the vaccine-eligible population who are gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men who are over the age of 18 and had multiple sex partners in the last two weeks. The most common symptom is a rash or sores that can look like pimples or blisters and may be very painful. 

Jay Varma, a physician and epidemiologist and director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response, joined Sen. Gillibrand to advocate that increasing vaccination supply must be public health’s policy priority.

“Right now, the virus is spreading primarily among gay men and their sexual networks. but there is no biological reason it will stay that way. And one of the most effective ways that we can vote help reduce the suffering among gay men and their close contacts, is to have more vaccines available,” said Varma.

Anyone interested in receiving text alerts regarding monkeypox cases, symptoms, testing and vaccinations can text “MONKEYPOX” to 81336 (for Spanish, text “MONKEYPOXESP” to the same number).