Metro Weekly

White House Names Monkeypox Czars

Coordinator Robert Fenton and Deputy Coordinator Demetre Daskalakis will lead U.S. efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

Robert Fenton (left) – Photo: FEMA; Demetre Daskalakis – Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Biden administration has named Robert Fenton, Jr. as the coordinator of the United States’ monkeypox response in response to the ongoing global outbreak that has prompted three different states to declare health emergencies.

Fenton, a regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who has previously served two separate times as acting administrator of FEMA, helped oversee the Biden administration’s efforts to set up COVID-19 vaccination sites. Due to his work on COVID-19 vaccinations, he was named a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals awarded by the Partnership for Public Service, a good-government group that celebrates federal employees and agencies, reports The Washington Post.

The White House has also named Demetre Daskalakis, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as deputy coordinator of the U.S. response to the monkeypox virus. Daskalakis previously served as a New York City health official and helped lead the CDC’s efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and has been involved in the federal response to monkeypox, warning about the risk of transmission of the virus among the gay and bisexual male community.

“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis as we work to end the monkeypox outbreak in America,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a press release from the White House. “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.”

In their new roles, Fenton and Daskalakis will coordinate and manage response efforts to the monkeypox outbreak, working with local, state, national, and international partners to track the disease, ensure adequate testing supplies, provide vaccinations to prevent infection, provide treatments to help those infected recover sooner, and build greater awareness and education around the virus and how to combat its spread.

Since the first case of monkeypox in the United States was confirmed on May 18, the federal government has made over 1.1 million doses of JYNNEOS vaccine available to states and cities across the country, focusing on vaccinating those populations most at risk: men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, commercial sex workers, and people who work in bathhouses, saunas or sex clubs — the latter of whom can become infected by handling towels or bedding that has touched monkeypox sores.

The government has also expanded testing, working with providers and local health departments to encourage them to test more often, sought to make treatments more accessible for patients and providers, and has launched research efforts in the hope of learning more about combating the disease.

As of July 28, more than 5,800 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United States, with an overwhelming majority of cases affecting gay and bisexual men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have all reported cases of monkeypox infection. Globally, there have been more than 23,000 cases across 78 countries.

Despite the federal government’s touting of availability of tests and treatments for monkeypox, patients and health care providers have complained about bureaucratic barrier and a lack of sufficient doses of vaccine. Some jurisdictions — including D.C. — have postponed the second of two required shots needed to reach full immunity, in the hope that one shot will provide up to about six months of protection, enabling others to get partially vaccinated against the virus at a time when vaccine supply is limited and can only be obtained through the federal government.

Illinois, California, and New York have all declared public health emergencies regarding the virus’s spread, a move that state officials claim will enable public health officials to prioritize the response tom the spread of the virus and coordinate a more comprehensive response to the outbreak.

While monkeypox is rarely fatal, and no deaths have been reported in the United States thus far, some patients can suffer excruciating pain from the rash and lesions caused by the virus. Health experts worry that if the virus is not contained, the chance increases that the disease will become endemic to areas outside of central and west Africa, making the disease a long-term problem requiring additional research efforts and financial resources.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, called the naming of Fenton and Daskalakis to their new positions actions that “reflect the seriousness of the monkeypox outbreak” and should send a signal to federal and state officials of the need for greater resources to curb the epidemic.

“We must get more vaccines to vulnerable people, especially sexually active gay and bi men, and accelerate all efforts to inform the public to track, test, treat and contain this virus as quickly as possible,” Ellis said in a statement.

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