Today, we are going to talk about monkeypox – what we know about the virus, how severe the problem is, how severe it could get and what the federal government’s response has been so far.
What is Monkeypox
It’s actually related to smallpox, but it’s less deadly than smallpox. You probably know smallpox is the virus that the world eradicated – got rid of. So since about the 1970s, monkeypox has been confined, really, to rural parts of Central and West Africa and was extremely rare. A person would catch the virus from an animal, often a rodent, and then pass it on to just a few people. So the outbreaks would be very, very small – like, just a few dozen cases at most. And that’s because the virus didn’t spread very well from person to person. Then, in 2017, things started changing.
There was this large outbreak in Nigeria, and the virus started to spread more easily from person to person and also is spreading in cities and in young, healthy men. And actually, that outbreak never stopped in Nigeria. The virus continued to circulate. Eventually, it spilled over into other countries, including the U.S., and eventually, that outbreak in Nigeria turned into this massive outbreak we have today.
The epidemiological data shows that in 98% in the U.S. – 98% or more of the cases are in gay men or queer people, including trans people, in their sexual networks. So this is primarily men who have sex with men and with multiple partners.
So this strain right now that’s circulating is rarely lethal. There have been very few cases where a person has died in this outbreak. No deaths have occurred in the U.S. However, monkeypox can cause a pretty serious illness. You know, it can put you in the hospital. It can be extremely painful. People that are hospitalized are often hospitalized because it hurts so much. There are cases where people can’t go to the bathroom, can’t sit down or lay down for a couple of days. I mean, it can be a nasty illness. It can also cause blindness and disfiguration. But in other cases, you know, it’s pretty mild. So there could be a very large spectrum here of symptoms and severity.
The supply is way, way too low right now. Health officials recommend that if you’re in that high-risk population, you should get a vaccine. And yet a lot of people in this group want to get a vaccine, and they can’t because the supply is so low, especially if you’re not in major cities because, really, it’s been the cities themselves that have been really pushing to get the vaccine out there. There’s been a lot of criticism about the administration, about the CDC on this front because – for instance, back in early June, the first week of June, Montreal in Canada started vaccinating high-risk people in the city. And that vaccination campaign slowed down their outbreak there.
There’s been a big, big push on Biden and the Biden administration to even invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow, you know, the president to force private companies to prioritize orders for the government. And, you know, even Michaeleen talking about the cities, I mean, senators like Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, represents New York, which is one of the hardest-hit states, has been pushing hard to do this. Karine Jean-Pierre – she’s the White House press secretary – was asked specifically on Friday whether they would use the Defense Production Act, and she wouldn’t say whether they were going to do that or whether they were even considering it, but did note that the public health emergency did provide some production of the vaccine.
Monkeypox has become a national public health emergency
The most recent data that we have from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that there are about 7,500 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the U.S. right now. And, Franco, the White House has declared monkeypox a national public health emergency. You know, help us understand what exactly it means when the government declares something a public health emergency.
Yeah, it gives federal agencies power to direct more money toward the problem, toward developing vaccines and evaluating drugs. It will also help get access to more funding to hire more professionals to help manage the outbreak. And it also gives the CDC greater access to information from health care providers and from states which, you know, so far has been a problem, getting that information. The federal data has been really slow and unreliable, which is, you know, a big part of the problem because the reality is no one knows the full extent of the outbreak because of the lack of data and, you know, the delays in testing and vaccines.
7,500 cases doesn’t sound like a lot, right? But this is a brand new disease in the U.S., and we have a unique opportunity here to stop and basically eliminate brand new, what is looking like, sexually transmitted disease. That window of opportunity is closing, and it’s closing quickly. And if we don’t do that, if we don’t stop this outbreak – which so far has not really slowed down at all, but has been speeding up – you know, our health care system will have to deal with a whole new disease.
And that puts burden on us financially. That puts a burden on us, you know, physically. I mean, we don’t need another problem to deal with. And so I think this announcement, one, is shining a light on this issue, but also giving people the tools to really go after this thing and stop it before it becomes entrenched and endemic here.
COVID response vs Monkeypox response
It’s hard to compare the two – right? – because monkeypox spreads much slower than COVID, right? You can get this virus, like, three weeks after you’re exposed. You know, the incubation period is a lot longer, and it doesn’t spread to as many people, so it’s hard to compare them. But I did read some analysis of this and that actually this is later in the outbreak given the number of known cases in the U.S. And so it’s hard to compare, but this is definitely not more premature than the COVID emergency.