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