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.
The Biden administration has offered to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as part of a deal to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American prisoner who the State Department claims is being unlawfully detained in Russia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a State Department news conference that the White House had made a "substantial" offer to the Kremlin to ensure Griner's release.
"There was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal," Blinken said. "And I'll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope move us toward a resolution."
The United States has declared the growing monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency.
The rare designation signals that monkeypox now represents a significant risk to all Americans and allows public health officials to adopt measures to contain the virus.
"We're prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously," Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, reported The New York Times.
The declaration by HHS comes more than a week after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a global health emergency, due, in part, to the ease by which the disease spreads.
DC Health has issued an update to its monkeypox vaccine program.
All of those who have had the first dose of the vaccine should pay special note to the announcement, and the sound reasoning behind it.
Metro Weekly will update with more information once we have comments from DC Health, but as a public service, we thought you needed to be aware of what's happening.
DC Health's statement follows:
"Given the rapid increase in cases, and the very limited supply of vaccines, DC Health has decided that the most urgent priority is providing the first doses of vaccine to high-risk residents. This single dose strategy is consistent with the monkeypox vaccine distribution strategies used in the UK and Canada, as well as New York City. DC Health reports that there are currently 172 cases of monkeypox in the District, representing the highest number of cases per capita in the United States.
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