White House names co-ordinator to lead U.S. response to monkeypox

U.S. President Joe Biden is naming two officials to serve as the White House co-ordinators to combat the growing monkeypox outbreak, with California on Monday becoming the second state in three days to declare a public health emergency over the virus.

U.S. saw 1st case in this outbreak confirmed on May 18, now has over 5,800 confirmed infections

A man with a beard speaks in a government committee room.
Robert Fenton is shown on April 14, 2021, appearing before a Senate subcommittee hearing to examine the Federal Emergency Management Agency response to COVID-19 and other challenges. (Greg Nash/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to name top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to serve as the White House co-ordinators to combat the growing monkeypox outbreak.

The White House said Biden will announce Tuesday that he has tapped Robert Fenton, who helped lead FEMA's mass vaccination effort for COVID-19 as the agency's acting administrator when Biden first took office, as the White House co-ordinator. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis of the CDC will be named his deputy. Daskalakis, the director of the agency's HIV prevention division and a national expert on issues affecting the LGBTQ community, previously helped lead New York City's COVID-19 response.

The White House said the pair would co-ordinate "strategy and operations to combat the current monkeypox outbreak, including equitably increasing the availability of tests, vaccinations and treatments." The announcement mirrors the Biden administration's response to COVID-19, when the president centralized virus response operations out of the White House.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and Biden's top science adviser, praised their appointments Monday night and said he hoped they would tighten the co-ordination 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's still a lot of unknowns."

WATCH | Monkeypox cases rising in Canada

Monkeypox cases continue to rise in Canada

3 months ago
Duration 2:46
As cases of monkeypox climb in Canada, there are growing concerns that the vaccine is not widely available, and time may be running out to contain the spread.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. People getting sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone. The virus may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

The U.S. saw its first case of the monkeypox virus confirmed on May 18 and now has over 5,800 confirmed infections.

Scientists say that, unlike campaigns to stop COVID-19, mass vaccinations against monkeypox won't be necessary. They think targeted use of the available doses, along with other measures, could shut down the expanding epidemics that were recently designated by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency.

Still, the Biden administration has faced criticism over the pace of vaccine availability for monkeypox. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they haven't received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand. The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses of vaccine available and has helped to boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

The type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak is rarely fatal, and people usually recover within weeks. But the lesions and blisters caused by the virus are painful, and can prevent swallowing or bowel movements if in the throat or anus.

California follows N.Y. with emergency designation

California on Monday became the second state in three days to declare a public health emergency over monkeypox, following action this weekend by New York.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said that declaration will help the state co-ordinate a government-wide response, seek more vaccines, and lead outreach and education efforts on where people can get treatment and vaccines.

"We'll continue to work with the federal government to secure more vaccines, raise awareness about reducing risk, and stand with the LGBTQ community fighting stigmatization," the Democratic governor said in a statement.

WATCH | This American came to Canada for the monkeypox vaccine: 

To get the monkeypox vaccine, this American came to Canada

2 months ago
Duration 5:31
Seattle, Wash., resident Justin Moore trucked across the border at British Columbia, along with several friends, to get vaccinated for monkeypox, something he says he couldn't get at home. He described the Canadian experience as 'uplifting.'

Nearly 800 cases of monkeypox have been reported in California, according to state public health officials.

On July 23, the WHO declared monkeypox a "public health emergency of international concern." Doctors fear the same pattern will repeat itself as Canada, the U.S. and European countries rush to vaccinate at-risk populations. 

They're using a vaccine originally manufactured for smallpox, which has been eradicated. In Canada, it's called Imvamune, and small quantities were stockpiled years ago in case smallpox ever returned. Imvamune is also approved to vaccinate people against monkeypox. 

Lineups for vaccine

Newsom's proclamation allows emergency medical personnel to administer monkeypox vaccines that are approved by the federal government.

That's similar to a recent law that allows pharmacists to administer vaccines, Newsom's administration said. It said the state's response is building on the steps developed during the coronavirus pandemic to set up vaccination clinics and ensure there is outreach to vulnerable populations in co-operation with local and community-based organizations.

WATCH | Concerns over public health messaging around monkeypox: 

Concerns over public health messaging around monkeypox

2 months ago
Duration 2:05
As monkeypox cases spread worldwide, overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men, there is growing concern that public health messages targeting that community have missed the mark.

California has received more than 61,000 vaccine doses and has distributed more than 25,000 doses. 

In San Francisco, Peter Tran was among hundreds who lined up sometimes for hours to receive the monkeypox vaccine at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Monday. The clinic had been forced to close last week because it did not receive enough doses.

"I think the science shows that protection is greatly improved with the vaccine. So that's why I'm doing it," said Tran. "And I honestly just don't want the lesions on my body."

San Francisco had 305 cases as of Monday, according to Dr. Lukejohn Day, chief medical officer at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

With files from CBC News