More than two years of COVID-19 and people think differently about viruses.
The US this month declared monkeypox a public health emergency, and people at high risk of contracting the virus — especially men who have sex with men — are lining up on city streets to to be vaccinated. An outbreak of bird flu that has sent egg prices soaring is finally abating. Polio resurfaced in New York. And then there’s SARS-CoV-2, which still infects about 93,000 people a day in the US
“There’s more focus on these kinds of outbreaks and diseases,” said Chris Meekins, health policy analyst at Raymond James. “Where we’ve been historically, only the attention is greater.”
There are several factors that explain some of the activity we see. Research suggests that climate change and changing land use patterns may create a higher risk of viruses passing from animals to humans. Some people are hesitant to get themselves and their children vaccinated. And it has become clear that public health agencies need to rethink the way they approach outbreaks.
Just last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls for a reorganization of the public health agency.
“It’s time for CDC to change,” she told collaborators, according to the New York Times.
For the time being, however, the focus is on encouraging vaccination where possible.
While some people are increasingly hesitant to get vaccinated, the pandemic has also slowed the use of medical services, including childhood vaccinations. A study published last year in JAMA Pediatrics found that the percentage of infants, children, and teens in the U.S. who were up to date on their vaccinations in the fall of 2020 was lower than in 2019. By the end of 2020, the World Health Organization has made an appeal to continue measles and polio campaigns worldwide despite the pandemic.
“This is a wake-up call,” said Dr. Peter Salk, president of the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation and son of Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, before commenting, “I don’t think people are starting to wave red flags and run to this place or that place urgently. ”
That said, Salk recommends boosters for those at high risk for polio infection. (This is the same as the CDC’s recommendation.)
Polio is in New York.
New York health officials last month reported a case of polio in an unvaccinated resident of Rockland County, north of the Bronx borough of New York City.
They also said polio virus, which causes paralytic polio, has been detected in the sewage system in New York City. It has also been found in wastewater in Rockland and Orange counties, both of which have polio vaccinations in 2-year-olds well below the state average of 78.9%. State data excludes New York City as of August 1. Orange County has a rate of 58.7% while Rockland County has a rate of 60.3%.
dr. Mary Bassett, the state health commissioner, has described the wastewater monitoring data as “alarming, but not surprising.”
Polio vaccines, which have been around since the 1950s, are included in the childhood vaccination schedule. However, only 86% of children in New York City between the ages of 6 months and 5 years have received all three doses of the polio vaccine.
“The problem you’re facing and why polio and other diseases like that are likely to be a little bit more common is that you’ve really had this politicization of vaccines, this politicization of public health activities, to the point where there’s a group of the population that’s just the way it is, we’re not going to listen to that anymore,” Meekins said.
Monkeypox is now a public health emergency in the US
Within months of the first alerts from Europe, more than 14,000 people in the US have been diagnosed with the smallpox virus, first discovered in 1970 and endemic to parts of Africa since Thursday. About 40,000 people worldwide have tested positive and 12 have died.
However, unlike SARS-CoV-2, the US already has vaccine and treatment options for this virus. There are two shots: EGM from Bavarian Nordic,
Jynneos and EBS from Emergent BioSolutions,
smallpox vaccine, ACAM2000. Antivirals that treat smallpox, such as SIGA from Siga Technologies,
Tpoxx and the CMRX of Chimerix,
Tembexa is expected to be effective against monkey pox.
While Wall Street analysts say they don’t expect monkeypox to become a health risk for all Americans, the outbreak has raised further questions about how the US will respond to virus threats in the future.
“How will public health apply the lessons of COVID to shape a more effective response to monkeypox and future public health crises?” Cowen analysts wrote in a note to investors last week.