“We have to prepare against multiple threats with a limited budget,” said Dr. Gary Disbrow, the director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, the federal agency that supported the development of Jynneos and other drugs and vaccines to protect against pandemics, bioterrorism and other hazards. “Our planning was for smallpox.”
What to Know About the Monkeypox Virus
What is monkeypox? Monkeypox is a virus similar to smallpox, but symptoms are less severe. It was discovered in 1958, after outbreaks occurred in monkeys kept for research. The virus was primarily found in parts of Central and West Africa, but in recent weeks it has spread to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly men who have sex with men. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency.
Now, monkeypox has emerged as a serious public health threat. As of the end of July, more than 5,000 cases were reported in the United States, and there were nearly 1,300 in New York City.
“We were required to have vaccines for smallpox, based on a material threat determination that simply didn’t exist for monkeypox, specifically,” said a Health and Human Services spokeswoman in a statement. “Today, now that we’re in response mode of facing a public health threat, we’re working swiftly around the clock to accelerate the number of doses available.”
The limited supply of Jynneos available shows that a new approach to preparing for biological threats and pandemics is needed, said a former federal official, Dr. Ali S. Khan, who until 2014 ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office that managed the stockpile. “I want people to know how poorly this went given the amount of money and resources put into it,” he said.
9/11 and Fears of a Bioterrorism Attack
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent anthrax letter attacks, the United States government redoubled its efforts to prepare against future threats. One clear danger was smallpox, with a 30 percent fatality rate. Though the virus was declared eradicated in 1980, lab samples of it existed, and there had long been concern that a foreign country or terrorist group might weaponize it.