NYT: Monkeypox the Next ‘Public Health Failure’

As monkeypox quickly gains a foothold in the U.S., the newspaper of record is pointing the finger of blame directly at the nation’s health officials. An op-ed in the New York Times notes “shortcomings” and “lapses” in public policy and actions that have gone drastically wrong.

Scott Gottlieb, commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration under former President Donald Trump, said bluntly that monkeypox will be the “next public health failure.”

With some 5,200 cases nationwide, the disease once localized in central and west Africa is getting entrenched across the country. It was just May when the first cases were confirmed or suspected in Europe.

Both New York state and San Francisco declared public health emergencies Thursday. New York has almost 1,400 cases statewide and San Francisco claims roughly 35% of California’s almost 800 cases.

Comparisons are being made to the national response to COVID-19, which many experts believe was due to the lack of a federal infrastructure to respond to outbreaks.

As the Times noted, monkeypox testing was limited in the beginning with less than 2,400 doses available when the outbreak was detected in Europe in May. Most of the stockpile was held simply as a backup against smallpox.

One issue the Times op-ed points towards is the structure of the CDC. It is culturally a deliberative organization, checking off boxes as it debates each level.

It is not equipped or inclined to take quick action necessary to ward off an outbreak, whether a rapidly spreading situation like COVID or one that moves more deliberately. Monkeypox transmits through very close personal contact, but still it is spreading virtually unchecked.

Demand for vaccines far outweighs current supply, and health care providers report difficulties getting doses of effective TPOXX antiviral treatments. The Strategic National Stockpile has almost 2 million doses but distribution has been an issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday designated monkeypox as a “nationally notifiable condition.” This means states are required to report to the CDC all cases both confirmed as suspected within 24 hours.

You’d think the federal government would get better at this. News conferences and public health statements do not take the place of action. Unfortunately for the U.S., the current administration is long on talk but short on everything else.