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President Joe Biden's newly appointed monkeypox response deputy coordinator, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, held a briefing Friday afternoon during which he addressed concerns from reporters representing LGBTQ+ news organizations regarding the Biden administration's handling of the monkeypox virus (MPV) outbreak.
More than 7,000 cases of MPV are currently confirmed in the United States, and calls for increased access to vaccines and treatment have been growing as the administration tries to fight the outbreak. On Thursday, the U.S. government declared the MPV outbreak a national health emergency, freeing up funds to be directed to combating the spread of the virus and pushing states to gather more data on confirmed cases.
In his remarks, Daskalakis addressed the concerns of those who register for vaccines only to find that all appointments are already booked. Officials have noted the mismatch between supply and demand, he said, not just in New York, where about 20,000 appointments were made Thursday evening and were quickly filled.
"The administration is working hard across domains to stimulate more production, to accelerate the finishing of the vaccine so it can be shipped, and also new strategies and novel strategies to make the vaccine that we have go a long way," Daskalakis said.
It may be possible to dilute a single-dose vial into five effective doses, something the Food and Drug Administration should be able to approve more quickly, given the declaration of the outbreak as a national public health emergency.
The administration is also actively combating stigma, he said. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV/AIDS prevention director and in his previous experience with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Daskalakis has devoted much of his career to overcoming health-related stigma.
Daskalakis said that although it was only his third day on the job, "one of the things that I found the most remarkable is my very first interaction with the president was really around the importance of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I need to make sure that they're feeling respected and heard and that we're providing them really good service."
A clear commitment of the Biden administration to the LGBTQ+ community is part of the mission of the federal government's MPV response, he explained.
The administration recommends that gay, bisexual, and other men and men who have sex with men and their networks implement risk mitigation strategies such as reducing the number of sexual partners, including new or anonymous ones, following updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued Friday. The new recommendation follows similar advice from the World Health Organization.
Daskalakis acknowledged that MPV is primarily transmitted by intimate contacts in those communities, although it is not a sexually transmitted disease. He said that the CDC's new guidance in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report or MMWR indicates that these enhancements are necessary.
The CDC also published interim guidance regarding how to prevent severe MPV in those living with HIV.
Generally, he explained that patients living with treated HIV should take no different precautions than anybody else. However, people with uncontrolled or untreated HIV are at risk for a severe MPV, he cautioned.
Daskalakis said that he understands there is criticism, but he pushed back against the notion that the administration hasn't acted. He says the Biden administration is implementing a whole-of-government response and accessing resources from various backgrounds to combat the outbreak.
"So really, the government is leveraging experience in HIV and sexually transmitted infections, as well as LGBTQ health, to make sure that we're doing this right."
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