In letters dispatched to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), House Homeland Security Committee leaders have pressed for details of the federal government’s preparations for and response to the ongoing monkeypox outbreak.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Vice Chairman Ritchie Torres (D-NY), and Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Subcommittee Chairwoman Val Demings (D-FL) requested answers from DHS and sought a GAO investigation into the response and recommendations for how to improve preparedness and response in the future.
“When there is an infectious disease outbreak, the Federal government has an obligation to make vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics widely available without undue delay,” the members wrote. “We are concerned that the pace of the Federal response to monkeypox has enabled the virus to spread for two months, and delays in distributing tests and vaccines have harmed efforts to contain the virus.”
They added that the American public health system is profoundly broken – and that has opened the door to greater consequences related to public health emergencies and pandemics. They noted that, even though the United States had more than a million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS vaccine ready to go at a plant in Denmark, it took two months to approve their distribution.
Because of this, they asked GAO to examine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and DHS plans and preparations for monkeypox to determine if they are appropriately responding to the outbreak and whether they have applied lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to this latest public health emergency.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern as of July 23, similar declarations in the United States have been restricted to localities and states. However, the federal government has been steadily increasing its JYNNEOS supplies for distribution. According to the CDC, as of Aug. 1, more than 5,800 cases were reported in the United States for a disease that was previously considered rare and non-endemic in the nation.
“Experts fear reported cases are a fraction of the total cases,” the lawmakers said in their letter to DHS. “The virus is taking a disproportionate toll on the LGBTQ community, which has historically faced discrimination within the health system. Cases have also been reported in pregnant women and children; both groups are especially high risk. Experts have critiqued delays in the Federal government’s response, including the lack of availability of vaccinations and testing, which may have permitted the outbreak to grow.”
Specifically, they sought details on how DHS and its internal branches have prepared for the virus since they began monitoring it last year. By Aug. 15, they also asked for department answers on the scope of its involvement in federal monkeypox response, how it’s communicating with state, local, and federal partners, the lessons applied from the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether it even has adequate resources to fulfill its responsibilities for the outbreak.