July 20, 2022

Schiff Urges Biden Administration to Step Up Monkeypox Virus Response

On Tuesday afternoon, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) called on the Biden administration to bolster its response to the spread of the monkeypox virus in the United States, amid reports that the U.S. does not currently have enough vaccines and health care providers do not have enough information and awareness to address rising cases.

“The federal government is falling short of the response that is needed. The United States must apply the costly, devastating lessons learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the AIDS epidemic to ensure a comprehensive, evidence-based federal response to the monkeypox virus,” Schiff said in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

To date, 1,184 monkeypox cases have been reported nationwide – up from 45 cases one month ago – and public health experts estimate limited access to testing means the true number of cases may be much higher. While the United States has acquired approximately 7 million doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine, only a fraction of those doses have been distributed to states and localities in need. In Los Angeles County, public health officials warned Saturday that vaccine supply is so limited that doses are currently only available to those with the highest risk of infection, and the shortage is expected to persist for months.

Schiff also expressed concerns that the current response to monkeypox – which disproportionately impacts members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly bisexual and gay men – echoes the nation’s reactionary and lagging response to previous viral infections that hit marginalized communities hardest.

“Sky-rocketing cases and limited vaccination supply worldwide suggests that the monkeypox virus will continue to spread for years to come, if not indefinitely. The HIV crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated it is critical that public health officials be forward-thinking in combatting the spread of viral infections – particularly in instances when marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community, are hardest-hit,” Schiff continued.

Specifically, Schiff called on HHS to:

  • Increasing the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, including drawing upon lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and using the full power of the executive branch to increase manufacturing and distribution of the JYNNEOS vaccine across the country as quickly as possible.
  • Supporting provider education and community outreach about the signs and symptoms of monkeypox and how to access testing, vaccinations, and treatments for patients who need it to not only limit the spread, but also the stigmatization of the virus.
  • Developing and implementing a long-term strategy that will ensure access to monkeypox testing, vaccination, treatment, and provider education for years to come.

 

Click here to read the letter or read the full text below:

 

Dear Secretary Becerra,

I write to you to express serious concerns regarding the federal response to the spread of the monkeypox virus in the United States. As you know, early epidemiological data demonstrates that the virus disproportionately impacts members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly bisexual and gay men. But the federal government is falling short of the response that is needed. The United States must apply the costly, devastating lessons learned throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the AIDS epidemic to ensure a comprehensive, evidence-based federal response to the monkeypox virus.

To that end, I strongly urge the Biden Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to build on its efforts to combat the spread of the monkeypox virus by increasing the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, supporting provider education and community outreach, and developing and implementing a long-term strategy to combat the spread of the monkeypox virus for years to come.

The demand for monkeypox vaccinations across the country far outweighs supply, with members of at-risk communities reportedly being turned away at vaccination sites due to limited supply.  Public health experts estimate that confirmed cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vastly underrepresents the true number of cases due to limited access to testing.  I am deeply concerned that the approximately 7 million doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine acquired by the United States will not meet the sky-rocketing demand. The current supply of the two-dose vaccine regimen accounts for only 3.5 million residents in the United States. With some shipments of the vaccine not expected to arrive until well into 2023, the current federal vaccination strategy falls short in terms of supply and timeliness. I urge HHS, in coordination with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), to draw upon lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and use the full power of the executive branch to increase manufacturing and distribution of the JYNNEOS vaccine across the country as quickly as possible.

To ensure patients with monkeypox receive proper and timely diagnoses and treatments – and importantly, limit the spread of the virus – the federal government must equip health care providers with the tools and resources they need now, not after the virus spreads more. This includes educating doctors, nurses, and public health officials about the signs and symptoms of monkeypox and how to access testing, vaccinations, and treatments for patients who need it. Concerning reports have surfaced of patients with monkeypox being misdiagnosed multiple times before finally receiving a monkeypox diagnosis – despite experiencing multiple symptoms of the virus indicated by CDC.  HHS, in coordination with CDC and state and local governments, must be proactive in their outreach to educate providers and community leaders about the monkeypox virus. Rapid, comprehensive, and continuing education efforts will not only limit the spread of the virus but help combat the stigmatization of the virus.

Finally, I strongly encourage HHS to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term strategy to combat the spread of the monkeypox virus in the United States. Sky-rocketing cases and limited vaccination supply world-wide suggests that the monkeypox virus will continue to spread for years to come, if not indefinitely. The HIV crisis and Covid-19 pandemic have demonstrated it is critical that public health officials be forward-thinking in combatting the spread of viral infections – particularly in instances when marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community, are hardest-hit. It is imperative that HHS consider, develop, and implement a public health strategy that will ensure access to monkeypox testing, vaccination, treatment, and provider education for years to come.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to working with you on this critical issue.

Sincerely,

 

Adam Schiff

Member of Congress

 

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