The World Health Organization recently declared a growing global outbreak of monkeypox to be a “public health emergency” of “international concern” and worthy of serious attention and coordinated governmental response.
Now comes word that, in response to the WHO’s declaration, President Joe Biden’s White House is considering following suit with a public health emergency declaration of its own as well as an appointment of a new “czar” to coordinate the government’s response to monkeypox, The Washington Times reported.
The idea seems to revolve around the belief that an officially declared emergency would help to cut through bureaucratic red tape and allow for better data collection on the spread of the disease, while the appointment of a new coordinator would help streamline the government’s response in tandem with the individual states, international organizations, and foreign nations.
Emergency or not?
The Washington Post was the first to report on Monday that President Biden’s White House team was debating the pros and cons of issuing a public health emergency declaration and naming a monkeypox response coordinator in the near future.
However, given that there are only around 3,500 cases across the entire United States, the virus doesn’t appear to be fatal — though it does appear to be quite nasty and painful — and it seems to be overwhelmingly confined to a specific demographic group — men who have sex with other men — there is some thought that a massive response from the federal government may be overkill in comparison to the coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, there are political considerations at play as well, such as the fact that leftist activists have been demanding without success that the Biden administration declare public health emergencies on issues like abortion, climate change, and gun violence — all of which are arguably more broadly impactful on the people than monkeypox — and could become angry or disenchanted if their pet cause is ignored for another.
On top of that, The Post noted that some administration officials have privately acknowledged that an emergency declaration and appointed czar may be merely symbolic and unnecessary, as the issue could be handled effectively through some minor tweaks to the normal system.
White House signals action
The talk of a monkeypox emergency declaration and appointed coordinator may well have stemmed from the White House’s official response to the WHO’s emergency declaration that was delivered Saturday by Raj Panjabi, the director of the White House Pandemic Preparedness Office.
Panjabi said in the Saturday statement, “A coordinated, international response is essential to stop the spread of monkeypox, protect communities at greatest risk of contracting the disease, and combat the current outbreak.”
That statement went on to note the “robust and comprehensive strategy to combat monkeypox” that had already been rolled out by the administration, but Panjabi added, “But that is not enough. As the Department of Health and Human Services has said, we must step up our work to aggressively combat this virus and protect communities in the United States that have been affected by monkeypox.”
Meanwhile, Politico reported that White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha has more or less become the administration’s unofficial point man on the monkeypox outbreak in addition to also serving as the chief spokesman for President Biden’s bout with COVID on top of his normal duties coordinating the response to the waning but still ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
However, it seems unlikely that Jha would be formally saddled with additional responsibilities as a monkeypox response czar, as that would inevitably detract from his duties with regard to COVID and could backfire on the administration if the federal response to both diseases appears to falter under split attention.