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(The Hill) – The Biden administration on Thursday officially declared monkeypox a public health emergency, a move that’s aimed at freeing up emergency funding and improving distribution of vaccines and treatments.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a briefing.

The announcement comes amid intense criticism that the Biden administration failed to recognize the severity of the outbreak, leading to shortages of vaccine doses and diagnostic tests even as demand has soared.

Some public health experts fear the U.S. lost its opportunity to contain and even eliminate the virus.

The administration has been under pressure to declare a public health emergency from health advocates and congressional Democrats who represent some of the hardest hit states.

A public health emergency won’t ease the shortages of vaccines, but it could expedite the approval process for new treatments and provide more flexibility for federal agencies to respond to the outbreak.Judge rejects federal plans for fossil fuel mining in Powder River BasinService member charged in connection with explosion at Syria base

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known monkeypox infections top 6,600, nearly all among men who have sex with men. New York state is the epicenter of the outbreak with almost a third of all cases, followed by California. 

The administration’s announcement comes after New York, Illinois and California all declared their own public health emergencies.

The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over the outbreak on July 23.