Former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s interview in which he criticized the federal response to the ongoing monkeypox outbreak was “misinformed and off base,” says Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gottlieb said Sunday that it may be too late to control and contain the virus and compared the response to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the US is making “a lot of the same mistakes,” such as a lack of testing early on and not enough vaccines distributed to the community.
“We could have gotten control of this if we had been more aggressive up front,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“I think the window for getting control of this and containing it probably has closed. If it hasn’t closed, it’s certainly starting to close,” he said.
But Walensky defended her agency’s work Monday.
“It is true that we have work to do – here and internationally – and are likely to see more monkeypox cases in the near term, but it is possible to significantly decrease the number of cases and contain the current monkeypox outbreak through education and increased testing and access to vaccines – all priorities we’ve made dramatic progress on,” she said in a statement to CNN.
Walensky said the CDC has expanded the monkeypox case definition to encourage health care providers to test for the virus, and it’s ramped up communications on the outbreak. Federal health officials have also “dramatically increased availability of vaccines, with more than 130,000 doses already delivered and thousands more on the way.”
Gottlieb emphasized the need for monkeypox testing as the global outbreak continues to spread.
“We’re probably detecting just a fraction of the actual cases because we had, for a long time, a very narrow case definition on who got tested, and by and large, we’re looking in the community of men who have sex with men and at STD clinics. So we’re looking there, we’re finding cases there, but it’s a fact that there’s cases outside that community right now. We’re not picking them up because we are not looking there.”
CDC data shows that there are 1,814 probable or confirmed monkeypox cases in the United States as of Friday evening. A majority of those cases have involved men who have sex with men. The CDC said Friday that there have been eight cases of monkeypox diagnosed among people who were assigned female at birth and that no cases have been reported in children or adolescents.
Gottlieb said on CBS that he believes monkeypox “has spread more broadly in the community” and that he would not be surprised if there are “thousands of cases right now.”
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“Now this is firmly embedded in the community. And while it’s not going to explode because it’s harder for this virus to spread, it’s probably going to be persistent. You’ll have this as a sort of a fact of life, maybe spreading as a sexually transmitted disease but also breaking out of those settings,” he said.
Walensky said in her statement that the CDC has increased testing capacity from 6,000 initially to up to 80,000 specimens per week with the help of five commercial laboratories in addition to the agency’s own laboratory response network.
“Having commercial labs testing for monkeypox makes it more convenient for providers to access tests by using existing provider-to-lab relationships,” she said.
“We continue to update the public, partners, and the community about how to protect themselves through daily outreach on our website, media briefings, and partner calls,” which involve “90+ partner organizations, including state, tribal, local or territorial partners, public health organizations, clinical, community, LGBTQ+ organizations that forward to their members,” she said.