The California Democrat Adam Schiff, a leading critic of the US response to the monkeypox outbreak, said on Sunday: “I don’t know why there aren’t more vaccines available.”
Speaking a day after the World Health Organization director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the rapidly spreading outbreak was a global health emergency, Schiff said he wanted “to light a fire under the administration”.
The WHO label – a “public health emergency of international concern” – is designed to trigger a coordinated international response and could unlock funding to collaborate on sharing vaccines and treatments.
On Sunday, the Biden administration’s Covid response coordinator, Ashish Jha, told CBS’s Face the Nation: “I applaud the WHO for declaring that public health emergency of international concern.
“We are seeing outbreaks that are out of control in many, many parts of the world. It’s very important that we get our arms around this thing.”
Monkeypox spreads via close contact and tends to cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions.
In a first-person account for the Guardian, Sebastian Köhn, who contracted monkeypox in New York City, said: “I developed lesions literally everywhere.
“They started out looking like mosquito bites before developing into pimply blisters that would eventually pop, then finally scab before leaving a scar. I had them on my skull, on my face, my arms, my legs, my feet, my hands, my torso, my back, and five just on my right elbow. At the peak, I had over 50 lesions, a fever of 103F and intense pain, prompting a panic attack.”
Tedros, who cast the deciding vote in favor of declaring a public health emergency of international concern, said the risk of monkeypox was moderate globally, except in Europe, where the WHO has deemed the risk to be high.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Tedros said: “Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners.”
He added: “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus.”
Jha said: “In the US right now, we’re looking at public health emergency as something [the health department] might … invoke but it really depends on what does that allow us to do.
“Right now we have over 2,000 cases, but we have ramped up vaccinations, ramped up treatments, ramped up testing, and we’re going to continue to look at all sort of policy options. Right now, we think we can get our arms around this thing but obviously if we need further tools we will invoke them as we need them.”
Schiff and other prominent critics have called for more access to testing and vaccines, amid claims the US was caught flat-footed.
Jha said: “What I would acknowledge is that when we started two months ago, we had a limited supply of vaccines. We have obtained more than any other country, probably more than every other country combined. We have acted swiftly. We’ve gotten 800,000 doses from Denmark … just in the last week.
“We’re going to be getting those out in the upcoming couple of weeks. So what I would say is this is a virus that we have known for, you know, 60 years, we had the vaccine and diagnostic capabilities to manage it. But, we have substantially ramped up that response, and that is now I think being felt in localities around the country.”
Schiff appeared on the same show.
His host, Margaret Brennan, said: “You said the federal response falls short in terms of supply and timeliness, regarding a vaccine. The current supply accounts for only three and a half million residents. Some shipments are not even expected to arrive until 2023. Why do you think the federal response is failing when Dr Jha says it’s contained and under control?
Schiff said: “I don’t know why there aren’t more vaccines available. I’m hearing from healthcare providers in my district that there are people lining up to get vaccinated and they don’t have the vaccines for them, and that is a real problem.
“We really don’t know the future course of this virus. But what we do now, early on, just as was the case with the [Covid] pandemic, will determine just how bad this may get.
“And so I want to light a fire under the administration and get them to make sure that we up production, that we up distribution and that people that are ready and willing and able to get vaccinated have the ability to protect themselves.”