The White House said Wednesday it was optimistic about a decline in monkeypox cases and an increase in vaccinations against the infectious virus, despite worsening racial disparities in reported cases.
Promising to increase vaccination offers at LGBTQ Pride festivals across the country in the coming weeks, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the White House’s deputy monkeypox national response coordinator, said more than 460,000 doses were administered. He stopped before promising an end to the epidemic.
“Our goal is to control this outbreak in the United States,” Daskalakis said. “We are seeing strong progress, really, with gunshots. Now that supply is not an issue, we need to make sure we focus on maintaining demand. “
The United States leads the world with infections – 20,733 cases had been reported as of Tuesday – with men accounting for about 98% of cases and men claiming to have had recent sexual contact with other men about 93% of cases.
The virus, which can cause rashes, fever, body aches and chills, is spread through close skin-to-skin contact and prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended any man who has had multiple male or transgender sexual partners to consider vaccination.
The number of infections is slowing after reaching a maximum of 870 cases in a single day on August 22. But the decline revealed a deepening of racial divisions.
While cases in white men have declined in recent weeks, blacks are making up an increasing rate of infections – nearly 38 percent during the last week of August, according to the latest available data. In the first weeks of the monkeypox epidemic, blacks made up less than a quarter of reported cases.
Latins are also disproportionately infected, making up nearly a third of infections in recent weeks.
This trend means that public health messages and vaccines are not effectively reaching those communities, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“This tells you that there is a need for a major recalibration in your interventions,” said Adalja. “It doesn’t have the impact it should be.”
The Biden administration has struggled from the start with its response to the outbreak when it was first identified in May. One million doses of the vaccine were waiting to be used in national strategic supplies, but the United States only had 2,000 on hand. Shipping and regulatory delays forced a nearly two-month wait for most of the remaining supply, as men queued for hours outside clinics in major cities hoping to get the shot.
White House officials said Wednesday they recovered from some of those early missteps, indicating a recent drop in cases.
Daskalakis said the Biden administration has been working to bring the vaccines directly into the hands of local organizations with links to the LGBTQ community to increase prevalence in Black and Latino communities. She cited the efforts made in the recent Pride celebrations in Atlanta and New Orleans as proof.
“Thousands of individuals are gaining protection against monkeypox that they otherwise would not have,” Daskalakis said. “These events show that our strategy is working.”
In Louisville, Kentucky, 33-year-old Spencer Jenkins was not impressed by the government’s response to monkeypox. He spent weeks this summer trying to get a vaccine by signing up for long waiting lists in cities just hours away, including Washington and Chicago.
Jenkins was lucky when his doctor in Louisville was one of the few providers who were given doses of the vaccine earlier last month.
“You would think they would like to bring vaccines to everyone because it’s preventative,” he said. “All the work has been entrusted to homosexual people trying to get the vaccine.”