Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the administration of President Joe Biden was “falling short” and “behind the curve” in how it is responding to the current monkeypox outbreak in the wake of what the country learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite the once in a century pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, the U.S. response to an existing threat is falling short, failing to develop and issue a research plan to understand the threat and its characteristics, failing to rapidly engage the private sector to develop tests for the virus, and failing to make vaccines quickly available and help states effectively use them,” Burr’s letter Wednesday to Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra said. “The United States is once again significantly behind the curve, failing to learn from the devastating effects of COVID-19, and other recent infectious disease threats.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 1,053 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, with the highest numbers coming from California with 161 cases, New York with 159 cases, and Illinois with 152 cases.
Internationally, Spain leads with 2,447 confirmed cases, and the United Kingdom is reporting 1,735 of the 11,068 cases worldwide, with the U.S. ranking fourth, according to the CDC.
Discovered in 1958, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus and is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox, the agency said.
The symptoms are like smallpox symptoms, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal, and is not related to chickenpox, according to the CDC.
“Similar to the early stages of the COVID-19 response, the CDC has primarily utilized state and local public health laboratories to perform tests, and the process of getting approval to test a suspected case has required health care professionals to consult with public health officials, delaying diagnosis, contact tracing, and treatment,” Burr said in the letter. “In another failure, the administration did not announce their engagement with commercial laboratories, which have the expertise and capacity to scale up testing, until June 22.”
Burr said another failure in the response is a plan to use existing monkeypox vaccines to battle potential widespread infection.
“Beyond failures in testing, the administration’s strategy to utilize vaccines and treatments that are effective against monkeypox has also been appalling. We have vaccines and treatments that we can use during this response,” Burr’s letter said. “Yet, the administration waited until June 28 to announce an ‘enhanced’ strategy to offer vaccines to at-risk individuals, in addition to known contacts. This strategy was announced only after some local jurisdictions had already begun using vaccine doses in this manner, which suggests that the announcement was neither strategic nor the result of proactive planning but, rather, an after-the-fact reaction to decisions made by local leaders who were quick to respond.”
Burr said that the “pattern” of reactionary policymaking was “disturbing” because Congress has tasked the HHS with planning for such outbreaks as a “core” responsibility of the agency.
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