Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the US could still “catch up” in trying to contain the growing monkeypox outbreak, but warned officials that they must dramatically increase testing if the country hopes to contain the virus. to become an endemic threat.
Gottlieb made the remarks on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday as cases of the disease continue to spread across the country. The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday, and now there are more than 7,500 confirmed cases of smallpox in the United States, the most of any nation.
“I think there’s a chance we can get it back in the box, but it’s going to be very difficult at this point,” Gottlieb said Sunday. “We continue to look for cases in the community of men who have sex with men. It is mainly spread in this community. But there is no doubt that it has spread outside of this community at this point. And I think we need to start looking for cases more broadly.”
Gottlieb went on to say that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been reluctant to expand testing recommendations to include patients presenting with other conditions, such as atypical cases of shingles or herpes. The agency, he said, tests about 8,000 people a week for monkeypox out of a potential capacity of 80,000 tests in that time period.
So far, the cases have been almost exclusively among gay and bisexual men, but officials urged the public that anyone is vulnerable. Dr. Anthony Fauci said the US should work to remove any stigma surrounding the disease, but there is concern among the LGBTQ community that President Joe Biden’s administration has moved too slowly to contain the spread of monkeypox.
Vaccines are still hard to come by, and the New York Times mentionted last week the Department of Health and Human Services was slow to request supplies of vaccinations during the early days of the outbreak. That setback means the US won’t see millions of needed doses delivered until sometime in 2023.
The only drug that can also be used to treat monkeypox, Tpoxx, is also extremely difficult to achieve due to bureaucratic red tape.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said last week that the public health emergency would allow the administration to better pool resources, noting that Biden had tapped two people to coordinate the White House’s monkeypox effort.
Gottlieb previously said the U.S. likely failed to contain monkeypox after it stumbled in its initial efforts to deal with the virus when the country’s first case was reported in May. He said Sunday that while there is still a small chance that any member of the general public will be affected by the disease, officials should still test as many people as possible.
“I think probably the incidence of this infection in the wider community is still very low,” he said. “But if we want to contain it, if we want to prevent it from becoming an endemic virus, we have to look for it more widely. And the worst case scenario is that we start testing more widely and don’t find it. And that would be reassuring. But that’s what we should do.”