Lawmakers have stepped up pressure on the administration over monkey disease

Congressional leaders have turned up the heat on the Biden administration over the monkeypox, demanding to know what his plan is to combat the epidemic as cases continue to rise and treatment still unavailable to many of those affected.

Senior members of the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra for answers about what his department is doing to combat the monkeypox outbreak, and several lawmakers asked what they thought. failed response.

About 2600 cases were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of Friday. Those numbers, of course, are among the issues lawmakers have raised in recent weeks because monkeypox testing is limited.

Last week Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called the U.S. response to the virus “troubling” in a letter to Becerra, insisting the administration has all the tools it needs. to better address the epidemic.

You are. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the top congressional health committees, both sent letters to the HHS secretary this week outlining their concerns.

A group of 50 House Democrats also sent a letter to President Biden urging him to declare a public health emergency over the monkeypox.

“Doing so would allow a number of authorities to accelerate the federal response and use additional resources to procure vaccines and rapidly distribute them across the country,” they wrote.

Both Murray and Maloney said they would request a briefing from HHS early next month.

While there’s no word yet on whether Becerra will attend the briefing, HHS released an updated fact sheet on the monkeypox response on Thursday. The agency said it has already distributed 200,000 Jynneos vaccines and expects about 800,000 by the end of this summer.

“In the coming days and weeks, HHS will continue to strengthen and accelerate its monkeypox response strategy and work closely with public health officials and stakeholders in at-risk communities to get vaccines, testing and treatment to communities across the country.” said the department.

The agency acknowledged that testing capacity was limited when the outbreak began, and said US testing capacity has now risen to 80,000 tests per week.

“Because there is no rapid test for monkeypox, it is especially important that patients who come to clinics do not refuse to be tested,” Murray said in a letter to Becerra this week.

Despite the increasing availability of vaccines, there are barriers that prevent many people from accessing antiviral drugs. Critics pointed out that people who had access to treatment were usually at an advantage over those who did not have health insurance or a regular health care provider.

HHS reiterated this week that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC are working to streamline the process for obtaining antiviral drugs, and that all rounds of treatment have been free until now.

The White House said in a press briefing Friday that it is taking steps to expand access to both vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Without addressing recent calls from lawmakers for stepped-up action, officials, including White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, addressed some of the areas of the monkeypox strategy that members of Congress have taken issue with.

“We’ve been using every resource at our disposal since the early days of this disease,” Jha said.

Jah said more than 300,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine have been shipped and hundreds of thousands more are expected to arrive from Denmark in the coming weeks.

A White House official also said efforts are underway to make available Tecovirimat, a smallpox vaccine called TPOXX that is believed to be effective against monkeypox.

“Both the CDC and the FDA are working very hard to simplify the process of accessing the treatment to make it easier for clinicians to order … to get it for their patients. It’s an ongoing process, but it will continue to accelerate,” said Jha, the administration’s technical director for the monkeypox treatment. added that it intends to reduce the necessary documents to supply TPOXX without permission.

Jha also addressed calls from lawmakers to declare a public health emergency, saying that’s an ongoing conversation.

“We’re looking at that, what options, if any, we have to respond by declaring a public health emergency,” he said.

“I think it’s always important to ask clear questions about what would allow us to do things differently than we do now, especially in public health situations. And could it make the response to the epidemic easier? So I say there is no final decision on this.”

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