President Biden on Tuesday tapped senior officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lead the U.S. response to monkeypox.
Robert Fenton, a regional FEMA administrator in the West, will serve as the lead coordinator of the response.
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, a public health expert and director of the CDC Division of HIV Prevention, will serve as the deputy coordinator.
Mr. Biden named the pair, who have four decades of combined experience in federal emergency response, as scientists warn that monkeypox is becoming entrenched in the U.S. and other nonendemic countries.
Mayors, governors and LBGTQ activists have complained about the pace of testing and vaccine distribution as cases mount, predominantly among men who have sex with men. The virus is spread through close personal contact, and anyone can contract it.
The U.S. has recorded more than 5,800 cases of monkeypox, and the mounting caseload shows no signs of slowing down.
The White House said the new coordinators will be tasked with tracking the spread of monkeypox with local, state and national partners and making sure communities have the tests, treatments and vaccines they need to control outbreaks. They will also help Americans understand the disease and how its spreads.
“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis as we work to end the monkeypox outbreak in America,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “Bob’s experience in federal and regional response coordination, and Demetre’s vast knowledge of our public health systems’ strengths and limits will be instrumental as we work to stay ahead of the virus and advance a whole-of-government response.”
Mr. Becerra has resisted calls to declare a public health emergency over monkeypox, saying the nation can use the tools it has to stay ahead of the virus and end the outbreak.
Others aren’t so sure.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams went ahead Monday and declared a state of emergency in his city, which is the epicenter of the outbreak.
The declaration will allow him to suspend or revise certain laws to try and fight the virus, which is rarely deadly but features a painful rash and lesions. Patients also report fatigue, muscle aches and fever.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, followed Mr. Adams later Monday, saying his own declaration will allow emergency medical personnel to administer monkeypox vaccines, among other measures.
Mr. Biden named his monkeypox coordinators one day after senior House Democrats asked a government watchdog to scrutinize the monkeypox response and whether key agencies applied lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to the new crisis.
“We are concerned that the pace of the federal response to monkeypox has enabled the virus to spread for two months and delays in distributing tests and vaccines have harmed efforts to contain the virus,” Homeland Security Chair Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, Vice Chair Ritchie Torres of New York and Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who leads a subcommittee on emergency preparedness, wrote to the Government Accountability Office. “Indeed, even though the United States had at its disposal more than a million doses of the Jynneos vaccine — in a plant in Denmark — it took two months to approve the distribution of those doses, allowing the virus to begin to entrench itself as a rapidly spreading rare disease in the interim.”
The lawmakers said the public health system in America is “profoundly broken” and a review will have implications for responding to future threats. They also highlighted the impact of the new viral threat on certain populations.
“The virus is having a disproportionately destructive impact on the LGBTQ community, whose public health needs have long been ignored,” they wrote. “For many in the LGBTQ community, history is, unfortunately, repeating itself.”
Recent polling found about 1 in 5 Americans is concerned about contracting monkeypox in the next three months and that many people don’t fully understand the disease, which is typically limited to parts of Africa.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday said 19% fear getting the virus compared to 30% who worry about getting COVID-19 in the coming months.
Two-thirds (66%) are not sure or do not believe there is a vaccine for monkeypox, even as HHS works to distribute Jynneos shots for monkeypox, and nearly half (48%) did not know whether monkeypox is less contagious than the coronavirus.
Scientists say the coronavirus spreads far more easily than monkeypox.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.