Biden Names FEMA and CDC Experts to Lead Monkeypox Response

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is set to name top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as the White House coordinators to combat the growing monkeypox outbreak.

The White House said Biden will announce Tuesday that he has tapped Robert Fenton, who helped lead FEMA’s mass vaccination effort for COVID-19 as the agency’s acting administrator when Biden first took office, as the White House coordinator. The CDC’s Dr. Demetre Dakalakis will serve as his deputy. Daskalakis, the director of the agency’s HIV prevention division and a national expert on issues affecting the LGBTQ community, previously helped lead New York City’s COVID-19 response.

The White House said the pair would coordinate “strategy and operations to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and Biden’s top science adviser, praised their appointments Monday night and said he hoped they would tighten the coordination between the various federal agencies involved in the monkeypox response.

“I personally think we’re dealing with a really serious issue here,” Fauci said. “There are a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of knowns about monkeypox, but there’s still a lot of unknowns. So we really got to implement the interventions we have, get a much better feeling for the natural history and the scope and absolutely reach out into the community, and that’s the reason why I think the combination of Bob and Demetre is really a good combination.”

Continue reading: Monkeypox: How it Feels

The monkeypox disease spreads by prolonged, close skin-to–skin contact. It includes cuddling, hugging and kissing as well as sharing sheets, towels and clothing. The majority of people who are currently ill have been men who have had sex with other men. However, health professionals stress the fact that any person can be infected by this virus. It can cause symptoms such as fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

American monkeypox was first confirmed in the United States on May 18. It now has 5,800 confirmed cases.

The announcement of the coordinator and deputy coordinator mirrors the Biden administration’s response to COVID-19, when the president centralized virus response operations out of the West Wing, first under Jeff Zients and now with Dr. Ashish Jha.

Scientists say that, unlike campaigns to stop COVID-19, mass vaccinations against monkeypox won’t be necessary. The scientists believe that targeted, combined with other, measures could stop the spread of epidemics recently declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization.

The slow availability of monkeypox vaccines has drawn criticism from the Biden administration. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand and some have had to stop offering the second dose of the vaccine to ensure supply of first doses. According to the White House it made more than 1 million doses of vaccine and helped increase domestic diagnostic capability to over 80,000 per week.

California became Monday’s second state to declare a public emergency due to monkeypox. This follows action by New York on Saturday. However, the Biden administration didn’t seem to be making any progress in this direction. Karine Jean Pierre, White House Press Secretary, said that the Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra would make the final decision.

“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis as we work to end the monkeypox outbreak in America,” Becerra said in a statement. “Bob’s experience in federal and regional response coordination, and Demetre’s vast knowledge of our public health systems’ strengths and limits will be instrumental as we work to stay ahead of the virus and advance a whole-of-government response.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday: “The seriousness of the monkeypox outbreak calls for an experienced and tested leader in emergency response, so it’s no surprise President Biden has tapped Bob Fenton for this vital role. Bob has been a critical partner for California, especially during devastating wildfires and throughout the COVID pandemic.”

AP writer Amanda Seitz contributed.

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