Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned that the United States lacks a federal infrastructure capable of dealing with public health emergencies such as monkeypox.
“Now if monkeypox gains a permanent foothold in the United States and becomes an endemic virus that joins our circulating repertoire of pathogens, it will be one of the worst public health failures in modern times not only because of the pain and peril of the disease but also because it was so avoidable,” the former Food and Drug Administration head wrote in and op-ed for the New York Times. “Our lapses extend beyond political decision making to the agencies tasked with protecting us from these threats.”
Gottlieb claimed the United States did not test enough people for the virus, which is overwhelmingly spreading via homosexual men, in the early part of the outbreak while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should have utilized commercial labs sooner. It wasn’t until June that the CDC expanded to using those labs, he noted.
Data released by the CDC shows monkeypox, which hasn’t caused any deaths outside Africa in the recent outbreak, has infected about 5,200 people in the United States as of Sunday. Wyoming, Montana, and Vermont are the only states that haven’t reported any cases so far.
Over the past several days, health departments in New York City and San Francisco declared the virus a public health emergency, allowing those municipalities to free up more funding and resources. Days before, the head of the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency.
“Its cultural instinct is to take a deliberative approach, debating each decision,” Gottlieb said of the CDC’s response. “With COVID, the virus gained ground quickly. With monkeypox, which spreads more slowly, typically through very close contact, the shortcomings of CDC’s cultural approach haven’t been as acute yet. But the shortfalls are the same.”
While the CDC should change course and re-focus its core mission on containing outbreaks, Gottlieb said he believes it’s not likely to do so.
“After COVID, there’s a view among some that public health agencies used flawed analysis and miscalculated their advice,” Gottlieb wrote. “Securing a political consensus that the CDC needs to be further empowered to complete its mission —for example, invested with the authority to compel reporting from states—is politically unobtainable.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week said that 98 percent of monkeypox cases involve homosexual men. Symptoms of monkeypox infection include fever, a rash or pox-like blisters, and muscle pain.