House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney wants the Biden administration to declare the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency, saying health officials must deploy every tool available in combatting the fast-moving disease.
Mrs. Maloney, New York Democrat in a tough primary race this year, said the administration took positive steps, including the release of over 780,000 vaccine doses this week, but it might not be enough.
New York City has been the epicenter of the monkeypox outbreak in the U.S.
Mrs. Maloney wants Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to invoke Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act and declare an emergency. These declarations last 90 days — though they can be extended — and allow HHS to tap into reserve funds, reassign personnel or cut red tape that may stand in the way of an urgent response to a crisis.
“Your department will be able to access crucial emergency funds to empower a more robust response at every level of government,” Mrs. Maloney wrote Friday to Mr. Becerra. “As secretary, you will be granted the authority to make emergency appointments so that your department has the personnel necessary for every aspect of the response and empowered to take additional crucial actions to expand access to preventive resources and treatment for monkeypox patients across the country.”
Monkeypox is endemic to parts of Africa but it has been spreading in the U.S. and dozens of other non-endemic countries since mid-spring. It is rarely fatal but features a painful rash.
The U.S. has recorded over 4,900 cases — including over 1,200 in New York.
The virus can spread to anyone through close personal contact, though health officials said 99% of cases in the U.S. occurred in males and the “vast majority” of them reported male-to-male sexual contact.
Mr. Becerra has promoted HHS efforts to expand the reach of testing, vaccines and a treatment known as TPOXX but stopped short of declaring an emergency.
He is under pressure to declare an emergency around everything from the virus to abortion access and gun violence, so the secretary must also tread warily to avoid overuse of the declarations.
“We continue to monitor the response through the country on monkeypox,” Mr. Becerra told reporters Thursday. “We need to stay ahead of this and be able to end this outbreak.”
Mrs. Maloney said staying ahead of the virus means using every weapon in the federal arsenal.
“The federal government must take every step possible to mitigate the threat monkeypox poses to the health of people in the United States before it is too late,” she said.