Monkeypox Is Giving Public Health Agencies a Chance To Prove They’ve Learned Nothing From COVID
One might think that following several years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government would be in fighting form when it comes to addressing a new public health threat. But here we are with another infectious disease outbreak on our hands and here are federal health agencies bungling the early response all over again.
In this case, we’ve got monkeypox spreading rapidly throughout the U.S.—cases have now been reported in every state but Wyoming and Montana—and, thankfully, a vaccine already in existence. However, federal authorities have been slow to ready the monkeypox vaccine for distribution—and even allowed a bunch of America’s vaccine supply to be shipped to European countries.
This has led to a U.S. shortage of monkeypox vaccines that could be crippling attempts to slow or stop the disease’s spread. “The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” The New York Times reported yesterday. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”
So, what went wrong? So, so much.
For one thing, “the Department of Health and Human Services failed early on to ask that bulk stocks of the vaccine it already owned be bottled for distribution,” the Times reports:
By the time the federal government placed its orders, the vaccine’s Denmark-based manufacturer, Bavarian Nordic, had booked other clients and was unable to do the work for months, officials said — even though the federal government had invested well over $1 billion in the vaccine’s development.
In addition, we gave hundreds of thousands of doses away back in May:
Health and Human Services officials so miscalculated the need that on May 23, they allowed Bavarian Nordic to deliver about 215,000 fully finished doses that the federal government had already bought to European countries instead of holding them for the United States.
Besides, there was bureaucracy to respect! When the first U.S. monkeypox cases were being reported, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could not yet distribute the vaccine because it was waiting on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to certify the plant where it was put into vials.
“Roughly 786,000 doses were held up by an F.D.A. inspection,” the Times says.
Remember early in the COVID-19 pandemic when America’s mask shortage was exacerbated by the FDA refusing to approve KN95 masks? It seems we’re destined, with every new outbreak, to be thwarted by authorities “protecting us” to death, or at least to severe disease.
Monkeypox can be fatal, but so far no monkeypox deaths have been reported in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there have been 6,617 cases reported in this outbreak—but “the official case count is widely considered an underestimate,” the Times suggests.
The disease has so far been spreading largely among gay and bisexual men.
As we saw with COVID-19, the CDC has been spreading incomplete or sometimes just plain wrong information about monkeypox. As Josh Barro points out:
Here is our federal government’s official answer to the question “Am I at risk of getting monkeypox?” as contained in a CDC FAQ.
At this time, the risk of monkeypox in the United States is believed to be low. Monkeypox does not spread easily between people; however, anyone in close contact with a person with monkeypox can get it and should take steps to protect themselves. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others.
Not only does this fail to disclose that men who have sex with men face greatly disproportionate risk of monkeypox infection, it conveys an additional piece of misinformation: that we supposedly know monkeypox doesn’t spread asymptomatically. As NYC DOH correctly notes, experts are concerned that asymptomatic spread may be a driver of the current epidemic. The CDC is wrong.
The CDC statement is also confusing: “Monkeypox does not spread easily between people” but also “anyone in close contact with a person with monkeypox can get it.” Those statements aren’t impossible to square, but to square them you need a piece of information the CDC leaves out — most (really, almost all) of the transmission seems to be happening through sexual contact, not oth
Article from Reason.com