Health · August 2, 2022

Biden appoints White House coordinator for Monkeypox

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday appointed a senior emergency response officer to manage the U.S. government’s handling of the monkeypox outbreak as some of the country’s largest states declare states of emergency.

The official, Robert Fenton, a regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and twice its acting chief, will serve as the White House monkeypox coordinator. Next to him, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, director of the Division of HIV Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will serve as his deputy.

An early-morning White House statement said the two men would be tasked with overseeing efforts “to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including equitably increasing the availability of testing, vaccination and treatment.”

Mr Biden had come under pressure to nominate someone with the President’s support to lead the response as cases continue to spread, particularly in the LGBTQ community.

The appointments came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom of California declared a state of emergency to fight the monkeypox outbreak there. New York and Illinois have made similar statements, as have the mayors of New York City and San Francisco.

The CDC has recorded nearly 6,000 cases of monkeypox since May, nearly half of them in these big three states. No deaths have been reported so far – monkeypox is rarely fatal – but the virus can cause severe pain. Transmission occurs mainly through prolonged physical contact.

The Biden administration has not declared a state of emergency, although the World Health Organization did late last month, but Xavier Becerra, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, is considering it.

The White House said 737,000 more vaccines were shipped Monday, bringing the total number of doses distributed to 1.1 million.

“This is very important as we’re trying to be really aggressive with monkeypox,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters Monday. She added that 80,000 tests are being conducted each week. “This is another important tool to ensure people are tested so they know if they have monkeypox or not,” she noted.

The two officers installed by Mr Biden Tuesday morning have extensive experience. Mr. Fenton, who oversees the American West for FEMA, has led response to natural disasters, outbreaks and humanitarian operations, and has twice served as acting administrator for the agency.

dr Daskalakis is known as the national expert on health issues affecting the LBGTQ community and previously led infectious disease management for New York City, including its response to Covid-19.

“Bob Fenton and Dr. Daskalakis are proven, effective leaders who will lead a variety of government efforts to implement President Biden’s comprehensive strategy to combat monkeypox with the urgency this outbreak warrants,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, said in the White House statement.