Monkeypox: Joe Biden appoints specialist team to lead response amid vaccine chaos

A public health worker wearing a face mask and surgical gloves administers the monkeypox vaccine at the Balboa Sports Center in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on July 27, 2022.

A new US monkeypox response team has been formed by president Joe Biden amid the array of emergency declarations by several states.

Announced on Tuesday (2 August), the team will cooperate with state-specific authorities on vaccine distribution and equitable testing for US citizens.

White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci told the press in a statement that: “This team will allow the Biden administration to further accelerate and strengthen its monkeypox response.”

Following emergency declarations by several states, including California and Illinois on Monday (1 August), White House officials appointed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Robert Fenton to lead the team in response to the growing animosity towards the administration’s handling of the outbreak.

According to data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of 2 August, at least 6,325 of the 25,391 global infections are from the US. It is currently the country with the most infected people of the 83 countries reporting confirmed cases.

Spain is second with at least 4,577 infected – a 1,748 difference between the two countries, and the UK is third with 2,579.

People protest during a rally calling for more government action to combat the spread of monkeypox at Foley Square on July 21, 2022 in New York City.

People protest during a rally calling for more government action to combat the spread of monkeypox at Foley Square on July 21, 2022, in New York City. (Getty/Jeenah Moon)

Experts have said that bureaucratic delays and shortages have bottlenecked the US response to the outbreak, which has led to further infections. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security expert Amesh Adalja told the Financial Times that “testing was very flawed, just like it was with COVID-19 in the early days”.

“Testing was restricted only to CDC affiliated labs, which created a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that made it very difficult for people to get tested,” he continued, adding that the mitigations make it extremely difficult to get the vaccine to those most vulnerable.

Stigma is also a major factor when planning vaccination rollouts as gay and bisexual men are currently the most vulnerable to the disease. This has led to claims that monkeypox is a “gay disease” and that is sexually transmittable – all of which are false.

Far-right Republicans and other misinformed pundits such as Marjorie Taylor Greene have been pushing claims that the disease is nothing to worry about for certain Americans and so should be “mocked”.

In a clip published by Twitter watchdog PatriotTakes, Greene said that monkeypox was “basically a sexually transmitted disease”, and said that it was a “scam” to “laugh at”.

“It’s not a threat to most of the population, and so it’s not a global pandemic, it’s really not, and people just have to laugh at it, mock it, and reject it. It’s another scam,” she said.

But organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) believe that such misinformed statements can blockade active progression towards treatment and prevention. During its declaration that the outbreak is a global health emergency, WHO warned against reinforcing “homophobic and racist stereotypes and exacerbating stigma”, while emphasising that anyone can get monkeypox.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the declaration of the outbreak as an emergency during a briefing on 23 July, saying it “represents a public health emergency of international concern”. The organisation defines a global health emergency as an “extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.