Biden taps top officials from FEMA and CDC to coordinate fight against monkeypox outbreak

President Joe Biden has chosen top officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lead the nation’s fight against monkeypox.

Robert Fenton of FEMA will serve as the White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis will be deputy coordinator, the White House said in a statement Tuesday.

The two officials will lead the administration’s strategy and operations to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments, the statement said.

The appointments come as the administration has faced criticism for over the pace of vaccine availability for monkeypox, a rare viral infection that does not usually cause serious illness but can result in hospitalization or death. Monkeypox spreads through close, physical contact between people.

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More than 20,000 cases of monkeypox have been detected globally, with more than 5,800 reported cases in the United States. Last Friday, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a "public health emergency of international concern," joining COVID-19 and polio in that designation.

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 the supply of first doses.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that 1.1 million doses of the monkeypox vaccine have been distributed in the United States, including 737,000 doses that have gone out in the past few days. More than 80,000 tests for monkeypox have been administered per week, she said.

Will the US declare public health emergency?
Asked whether Biden plans to declare a public health emergency, Jean-Pierre said the decision rests with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra

But, “we are considering every policy option to help end this outbreak,” she said. “That is urgent, and that is important to us.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and Biden’s top science adviser, praised the appointment of Fenton and Daskalakis on 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 are 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.”

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Who are Robert Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis?
Fenton serves as regional administrator for FEMA’s Region 9, which covers the West and has nearly 50 million people in his area of responsibility. He twice served as acting administrator of FEMA and led multiple prevention, response, and recovery operations throughout his career, including for natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and complex humanitarian operations.

Daskalakis is director of the CDC Division of HIV Prevention. He is known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBGQIA+ communities. He previously oversaw the management of infectious diseases for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one of the largest departments in the nation.

Both played roles in making COVID-19 vaccines more accessible for underserved communities and closing the equity gap in adult vaccination rates, through the implementation and execution of FEMA mass vaccination sites in some of the country’s most underserved communities.

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