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There has been a shortage of testing and vaccines for Monkeypox


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm nearly 800 monkeypox cases in the U.S. as officials try to increase testing capacity and shipments of vaccines to help stop the spread of the virus. But those efforts aren't meeting demand. NPR health reporter Pien Huang joins us to try and round up the latest news. Pien, thanks so much for being with us.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin with testing. What are some of the holdups there?

HUANG: Well, a new CDC paper that was published yesterday found that in the first six weeks of the monkeypox outbreak here through the end of June, labs tested just 2,000 samples. Now, the CDC has said that their laboratory response network has been capable of running around 60,000 tests in that time, so some of the problems were on the lab end. The process was slow at first. There were staffing limitations. But some of that was also the fact that it was hard for providers to use this lab network. It took paperwork, permissions from public health authorities. And another challenge, identified by the National Council of STD Directors, is that many clinics don't have the swabs or test tubes needed to collect the samples.

SIMON: So what are authorities doing?

HUANG: Well, just this week, the CDC announced that LabCorp, which is a huge commercial laboratory - they're now offering monkeypox tests. It's the first of five commercial labs that are expected to come online. And by the end of the month, LabCorp says they'll be capable of running 10,000 tests a week, which would double the existing capacity. It's a lot easier for doctors to use. They won't need permission from the Health Department to order those tests. And now that this is an option, experts say that there might be a big jump in case numbers coming up, which will actually reflected a truer picture of what's going on.

SIMON: And how is the administration effort to send out vaccines to local health jurisdictions going?

HUANG: Well, there, again, the demand is high, but the supplies are limited. So far, they've sent out around 40,000 doses to health departments. And these are being mainly offered to the gay and bisexual male community, where the virus appears to be spreading through intimate contact. It's also being offered to health workers and others who may have been exposed. I spoke with Patrick Ashley with the Washington D.C. Health Department. They've been offering vaccine appointments online.

PATRICK ASHLEY: We've been able to offer almost a little over a thousand appointments so far. Each time that we're able to offer appointments, they sell out in a matter of minutes.

HUANG: I visited one of D.C.'s monkeypox vaccination sites this week, and a man named Geoff was relieved to get the shot.

GEOFF: Because I didn't really know enough about it, like, there wasn't so much I felt I could do to prevent it, besides just, like, kind of trying to avoid the most crowded places.

HUANG: Now, nationally, the government is allocating vaccine based on the number of cases. So D.C. has around 60 so far, and since the population is small, it actually has the highest monkeypox case rate per capita. By sheer numbers, California and New York have gotten the most vaccines, and states like Idaho and Arkansas, which just found their first cases this week, haven't gotten any.

SIMON: Are more vaccines on the way?

HUANG: Yes. The government announced that more vaccines are being allocated next week. That'll bring the total available nationwide to 200,000. But advocates say that's just not enough. Joseph Osmundson is a biologist and a queer advocate based in New York City.

JOSEPH OSMUNDSON: Many more people have a friend or know someone who's suffering. They're still having a hard time getting tested. Absolutely no one can access vaccine without winning a sort of online lottery, basically.

HUANG: He says that there's a disconnect between the urgency his community is feeling and the response from the feds. He says community anger is rising.

SIMON: NPR health reporter Pien Huang, thanks so much for being with us.

HUANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.