Monkeypox: CDC slammed for ‘acting too slowly’ to protect queer folk as US cases surge

A person holds up a vile of a vaccine with the white label reading monkeypox

A coalition of LGBTQ+ organisations have called on health officials to address the rapid rise in monkeypox cases and rename the virus to prevent stigma. 

LGBTQ+ organisations and health groups banded together in an open letter addressed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky. The organisations urged the CDC to take action over the growing stigmatisation of the LGBTQ+ community as the number of monkeypox cases continues to rise. 

The CDC reported on Wednesday (20 July) there were 2,323 monkeypox/orthopoxvirus cases in the US. New York has reported the highest number of cases with 581 people diagnosed with the virus, followed by California with 356 cases. 

The LGBTQ+ groups and health organisations appealed to the CDC to “mitigate the disproportionate impact that this poxvirus has on MSM [men who have sex with men] and transgender communities”.

The coalition said the CDC needed to expand testing and vaccine access by partnering with local services to increase “convenience” for patients in need. 

“To date, the CDC has only provided vaccines to those with confirmed hMPXV exposures, resulting in limited vaccine allotments,” the letter said. 

It continued: “While the new national vaccine strategy will expand access to vaccines for individuals at higher risk of exposure, the US Department of Health and Human Services must take immediate steps to allocate sufficient vaccine doses across the country and prioritise jurisdictions with the highest number of cases and populations at greatest risk.”

The coalition recommended the CDC change the name of the virus as it could lead to increased levels of discrimination and stigmatisation of marginalised communities. The organisations suggested monkeypox be renamed to “hMPXV”, which falls in line with measures taken by the World Health Organization to combat stigma.

The statement read: “The current nomenclature and association to West Africa are stigmatizing and could lead to discrimination. 

“As decades long leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the undersigned organisations strive to create an environment where diseases do not discriminate against populations and are concerned the current name undermines decades of efforts to minimise stigma in MSM communities.”

Monkeypox lesions

Monkeypox lesions. (Getty/ CDC)

Christopher Vasquez, director of communications at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, added it was clear the US needs a “robust federal response” from the CDC to “stop the spread of this virus”. 

“After facing greatly disparate impacts on the LGBTQ community during both the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, we are demanding that the federal government take action to stop the spread of hMPXV and protect the health of LGBTQ individuals now,” Vasquez said.

Tony Hoang, director of Equality California, said the organisations witnessed firsthand during the AIDS crisis and COVID “what happens when public health leaders at all levels act too slowly to protect the LGBTQ+ community”.

“We cannot simply watch the spread of this outbreak when there are tests and vaccines already developed for health care providers to distribute,” Hoang said. “Lack of urgency and resources will continue to put the health and wellbeing of our community at risk, and that is inexcusable.”

The CDC said monkeypox can spread, among other ways, through “direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids”. This can include contact “during intimate physical contact” or via respiratory secretions during prolonged face-to-face contact. 

Monkeypox has disproportionately affected gay, bisexual and queer men in the US, UK and other countries, but officials have emphasised the virus is not a “gay disease” as anyone can contract the illness.

There have been reports of a horrific rise in reports of the vilifying of queer men, similar to what the LGBTQ+ community faced during the HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980s.