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Worried about monkeypox, Mass. politicians call for 'aggressive action' from federal officials

A man holds
A man shows a photo the monkeypox rash on his skin. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images)

Several politicians from Massachusetts are calling on the federal government to step up their response to monkeypox. In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, nine members of the 11-person Massachusetts Congressional delegation said the country is at a “critical inflection point” and “now is the time for aggressive action.”

The representatives — including representatives Jim McGovern, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark,  Ayanna Pressley, Stephen Lynch and Bill Keating as well as senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey — said the country needs more testing, vaccinations and education. Plus, they want to see “greatly improved” data tracking.

“We saw what happened when the last administration was slow to respond to COVID-19. The consequences were devastating. We simply cannot get caught flat-footed again,” Pressley, who spearheaded the letter, said in a recorded statement.

Last week, the commonwealth announced 30 new monkeypox cases, bringing the total to 79 cases since late May. That puts Massachusetts among the 10 states with the highest number of monkeypox cases. Officials say the outbreak is disproportionately affecting men who have sex with men.

The letter called on the federal government to collaborate more closely with local and state officials in responding to what the World Health Organization has now designated a public health emergency.

The federal government has made vaccines available to impacted states for free, including the JYNNEOS vaccine which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent smallpox and monkeypox.

The state currently has 11 health care providers offering JYNNEOS, but there's not enough of the vaccine in the country. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said its supply of the vaccine “remains severely limited at this time.” As of July 20th, the state had administered nearly 3,000 doses.

When the outbreak started, the U.S. stockpile only had 2,400 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine. Since then, the government has ordered 5 million additional vaccine doses.

The nation’s testing capacity has also increased from 6,000 tests per week initially to 80,000 tests per week currently. Further, according to the HHS, “federal agencies have conducted extensive outreach to key stakeholder groups,” including communication with the LGBTQI+ community in cities experiencing the most cases.

In the hopes of ensuring equitable access, the Massachusetts political leaders urged Becerra to “collect and disclose disaggregated demographic data, including gender identity, race, and ethnicity, to track whether those who need the resources are receiving them.”

“We can’t manage what we don’t know,” said Pressley in the recorded statement. “We hope the administration will heed our calls and announce new measures as soon as this week.”

HHS did not respond to immediate requests for comment. However, Sarah Lovenheim, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS, tweeted recently that the federal response has been “steady and robust, and it's about to rev up.”

Related:

Gabrielle Emanuel Twitter Senior Health and Science Reporter
Gabrielle Emanuel is a senior health and science reporter for WBUR.

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