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Wednesday, November 29th, 2023

White House appoints team to lead federal monkeypox response

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As more states and localities declare emergencies over the growing monkeypox outbreak, President Joe Biden this week formed an official White House national monkeypox team from other agencies to guide federal response.

Helming the team will be FEMA’s Regional Administrator for the American West, Robert Fenton, who will become White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Under him will be Dr. Demetre Daskalakis – the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of HIV Prevention – as deputy coordinator. Together, they will guide strategy and operations at the federal level, including one of the major concerns for officials now: the availability of tests, treatments, and vaccinations.

Currently, the administration is relying on the Bavarian Nordic JYNNEOS smallpox and monkeypox vaccine to rein in the virus’ spread. However, according to the CDC, as of Aug. 2, 2022 – when Biden formed the new task force – more than 6,300 cases had been reported in the United States alone. This made it first in the world for cases as global figures have crossed 25,000 cases, overwhelmingly in nations that do not traditionally encounter the disease. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a public health emergency of international concern.

“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Dasklalakis as we work to end the monkeypox outbreak in America,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said. “Bob’s experience in federal and regional response coordination and Demetre’s vast knowledge of our public health systems’ strengths and limits will be instrumental as we work to stay ahead of the virus and advance a whole-of-government response.”

In Fenton’s case, coordination included two rotations as Acting Administrator of FEMA. Both Fenton and Daskalakis have previously overseen part of the operations and implementation of critical pieces of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, infectious disease control, and HIV prevention. The latter could be particularly critical, given this outbreak’s uncomfortable parallels to when the HIV crisis first hit. Much like that crisis, it has had an outsized impact on LGBTQIA+ communities. Daskalakis, a national expert on health issues affecting those communities, has focused on providing care for LGBTQIA+ communities in his clinical practice.

“Bob Fenton and Dr. Daskalakis are proven, effective leaders that will lead a whole of government effort to implement President Biden’s comprehensive monkeypox response strategy with the urgency that this outbreak warrants,” Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the president, said. “From Bob’s work at FEMA leading COVID-19 mass vaccination efforts and getting vaccines to underserved communities to Demetre’s extensive experience and leadership on health equity and STD and HIV prevention, this team will allow the Biden Administration to further accelerate and strengthen its monkeypox response.”