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Why the federal government is sending monkeypox vaccine to Utah

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated a monkeypox outbreak the the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This 1997 image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, and depicts the dorsal surfaces of the hands of a monkeypox case patient, who was displaying the appearance of the characteristic rash during its recuperative stage. The World Health Organization is creating a new vaccine-sharing mechanism to stop the spiraling outbreak of monkeypox in more than 30 countries beyond Africa.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Associated Press

Some 500 doses of monkeypox vaccine are headed to Utah, where five cases of the virus have now been reported.

Utah is one of 32 states and jurisdictions as of Tuesday that had requested the smallpox vaccine deemed effective in treating and preventing monkeypox. The vaccine is being distributed as part of the Biden administration’s response to the global outbreak of the virus that now includes five cases in Utah.

Three cases have been identified in Salt Lake County, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated Utah’s case count to five on Wednesday afternoon. One of the new cases is in Utah County and the other is in Salt Lake County, according to Utah Department of Health spokeswoman Charla Haley.

The latest Salt Lake County case was reported Wednesday afternoon and has yet to be confirmed by the CDC, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said. The Salt Lake County resident became infected while traveling, is in isolation and does “not present a risk to the public. Contact tracing is underway,” Rupp said.

The Salt Lake County Health Department is already working on a distribution plan to get the vaccine to those considered at high risk for monkeypox, currently primarily men who have sex with men, but is still waiting to hear how many doses will be available and when they’ll arrive, Rupp said.

Neither the three people confirmed to have monkeypox in Salt Lake County nor anyone they came in contact with needs the vaccine, Rupp said. The two Salt Lake County men who became Utah’s first cases in May after a European trip have recovered, and he said the state’s third case, also a county resident, is doing good.

The four infected people in Salt Lake County agreed to voluntarily isolate, Rupp said, until they were fully healed from the effects of the virus, which often starts with a rash that turns into fluid-filled pustules that scab over then eventually fall off. Besides prolonged close contact, monkeypox can also be spread through bedding and other materials.

Haley said the CDC initially agreed to send the state 20 doses of the smallpox vaccine that’s being released from the nation’s strategic stockpile. Later, she said the federal agency, which was scheduled Wednesday to discuss future doses, was sending about 500 doses.

The White House announced plans Tuesday to provide the Jynneos vaccine nationwide to individuals at high risk to mitigate the spread of monkeypox, a disease that had largely been confined to parts of Africa until the latest outbreak.

So far, more than 9,000 doses of vaccine, along with 300 courses of antiviral smallpox treatments, have been deployed and another 296,000 doses will be allocated over the coming weeks, including 56,000 immediately, the administration said, promising a total of 1.6 million additional doses will become available.

Because smallpox was eradicated and routine vaccination ended in the United States in 1972, the vaccine has been stored by the federal government. Utah and other states that don’t have a share of the nation’s smallpox vaccine stockpile would have to wait up to 72 hours for doses to be transferred by the federal government.

Public health officials have said that would still be enough time to make a difference, since it is believed smallpox vaccine administered within four days of exposure to monkeypox provides protection against developing the disease, and within 14 days, may reduce its severity.

There are at least 351 monkeypox cases confirmed in the United States, and more than 5,100 worldwide, according to the CDC.