The US has had a faltering response to the monkeypox outbreak, with confirmed cases rising to 700 in the two months since the outbreaks were first discovered and clinics across the country struggling to meet demand for effective vaccines. to fulfil.
Some public health experts and patients say more needs to be done and warn that mistakes made during the COVID-19 pandemic are being repeated.
The monkeypox virus is less contagious than COVID-19 and so far mainly affects one community: men who have sex with men. But the US has learned lessons from the coronavirus pandemic that still need to help the nation get monkey pox under control, experts say.
Leana Wen, a research professor of health policy and management at George Washington University and former Baltimore health commissioner, told The Hill that she has been feeling a sense of déjà vu.
“Probably the most important thing for me is the lack of testing. We saw during COVID that every case found was like the canary in the coal mine, that they were really just the tip of the iceberg,” Wen said. “And that was because there were so few tests available. Why haven’t we learned our lesson?”
Last week, one of the largest lab testing networks in the US, Labcorp, announced it would begin testing for monkeypox using tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company will be able to perform approximately 10,000 tests per day.
In its announcement, Labcorp recommended that people contact their health care providers to begin monkey pox testing and sample collection, a more cumbersome process compared to COVID-19 testing, especially for people who do not have a regular health care provider.
Wen said monkeypox testing shouldn’t become a complicated process, noting that performing the test itself is quite simple: Monkeypox testing removes the base of the characteristic lesions that form after infection.
As of Monday, more than 760 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in nearly 40 states in the US, which is almost certainly an undercount as many may not be aware they are infected or have not yet been tested.
Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is not a new virus, it does not spread as easily and is largely transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact. And while it currently affects relatively few people in the US, advocates and scientists worry that this outbreak could spiral out of control.
Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who served as senior health adviser to former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), said in a recent interview that he feared monkeypox could entrenched itself in the US.
“If we don’t really get ahead of this, we’ll fall further behind and it becomes a permanent part of our disease landscape,” Varma said.
De Blasio himself on Twitter on Monday urged the federal government to ramp up access to monkeypox vaccines.
New York’s gay community has been particularly hard hit by the outbreak. The Department of Health said in a tweet on Tuesday that 111 people tested positive in New York City last week, up from 55 a week earlier.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) noted the unmet demand for monkeypox vaccines in a letter he sent to President Biden on Monday. Adams asked the White House to consider a different vaccination schedule that would allow for a longer period between the two doses of the preferred smallpox vaccine Jynneos so that more people could be immunized immediately.
In an NBC News report published last week, several gay men who tested positive for monkeypox gave detailed experiences communicating with public health officials when they tried to get tested and shared their possible close contacts. A man in New York said it took nearly a week to get tested and the names of potential contacts.
Clinics in major cities such as New York and Washington, DC, are quickly running out of available vaccine doses.
New York issued no warning before announcing its own vaccine push late last month, running out of doses within hours without knowing when more injections would be available. On Monday, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that an additional 1,250 doses would be made available.
Health authorities claim that monkeypox poses no threat to the general public and that the death rate from the virus is low.
Eric Toner, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said this recent monkeypox outbreak could very well be a sign of an “era of epidemics” entering the world.
“As people increasingly interact with wildlife — whether it’s in wet markets for food or moving into their habitats because of population growth — we’ll see people increasingly exposed to exotic pathogens,” Toner said.
Overall, Toner said he believed the response was adequate given the constraints, noting the inherent difficulties with measures such as contact tracing and the rapid way the federal government was deploying vaccines and placing orders for more.
“I don’t think they’ve been slow. I don’t think it’s like they haven’t learned lessons from COVID-19,” he said.
Still others say the answer hasn’t been as streamlined as it could have been. A senior Biden administration official, speaking anonymously, admitted to The New York Times last week that monkey pox testing has not been as quick or easy as it should have been. Contributing factors included negotiating with labs, ramping up testing supplies and training staff, the official said.