WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has decided to stretch out its limited supply of monkeypox vaccine by allowing a different method of injection that uses one-fifth as much per shot, according to senior administration officials familiar with the planning.
In order for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize so-called intradermal injection, which would involve injecting one-fifth of the current dose into the skin instead of a full dose into underlying fat, the Department of Health and Human Services will need to issue a new emergency declaration allowing regulators to invoke the F.D.A.’s emergency use powers. That declaration is expected as early as Tuesday afternoon.
The move would help alleviate a shortage of vaccine that has turned into a growing political and public health problem for the administration.
The administration has faced a barrage of criticism that it was too slow to ship vaccine that was ready for use to the United States from Denmark, where it was manufactured, and too slow to order that bulk vaccine stocks be processed into vials after the disease first surfaced here in mid-May.
In less than three months, more than 8,900 monkeypox cases have been reported. The disease spreads primarily through skin-to-skin contact during sex among gay and bisexual men. Federal officials are concerned about both the current infection rate and the risk that the disease could spread to other parts of the population.
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 recently it has spread to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly men who have sex with men.
How does it spread? The monkeypox virus can spread from person to person through close physical contact with infectious lesions or pustules, by touching items — like clothing or bedding — that previously touched the rash, or via the respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. Monkeypox can also be transmitted from mother to fetus via the placenta or through close contact during and after birth.
I fear I might have monkeypox. What should I do? There is no way to test for monkeypox if you have only flulike symptoms. But if you start to notice red lesions, you should contact an urgent care center or your primary care physician, who can order a monkeypox test. Isolate at home as soon as you develop symptoms, and wear high-quality masks if you must come in contact with others for medical care.
I live in New York. Can I get the vaccine? Adult men who have sex with men and who have had multiple sexual partners in the past 14 days are eligible for a vaccine in New York City, as well as close contacts of infected people. Eligible people who have conditions that weaken the immune system or who have a history of dermatitis or eczema are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. People can book an appointment through this website.
Even though it invested more than $1 billion in developing the two-dose vaccine known as Jynneos that works against monkeypox, the government has only 1.1 million shots on hand. It needs about three times as many doses to cover the 1.6 million to 1.7 million Americans who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are at high risk of contracting monkeypox.
Federal health officials said last week that so far, they have distributed about 600,000 doses of the vaccine to state and local jurisdictions.
The Department of Health and Human Services last week issued a broader public emergency declaration that allowed the federal government to more easily allot money and other resources to fight the virus.
Research on intradermal injection of the monkeypox vaccine is limited to one study. It showed that when the vaccine was injected between skin layers, it induced an immune response comparable to that from a standard injection into the fat underneath the skin. Federal officials have consulted with a variety of outside groups about switching to the intradermal injection approach, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, according to people familiar with the talks.
Some outside experts have criticized the data backing up the method for monkeypox as too thin and narrowly focused. The government’s decision to go with it is heavily based on a 2015 study that was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.