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President Biden to tap Robert Fenton and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis to be lead White House coordinators to lead US response to monkeypox

WASHINGTON DC — President Joe Biden is set to appoint top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as White House coordinators for the growing outbreak of monkeypox.

The White House says Biden will announce on Tuesday that he has tapped Robert Fenton, who helped lead FEMA’s mass vaccination effort against COVID-19 as the agency’s acting administrator. when Biden took office, as White House coordinator. CDC’s Dr. Demetre Daskalakis will be named his deputy. Daskalakis, director of the agency’s HIV prevention division and national expert on issues affecting the LGBTQ community, previously helped lead New York City’s COVID-19 response.

The White House said the couple would coordinate “strategy and operations to address the current outbreak of monkeypox, including equitably increasing the availability of testing, vaccinations and treatment.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and Biden’s top science adviser, welcomed their appointments on Monday night and said he hoped they would tighten coordination among the various federal agencies involved in the response. at monkeypox.

“I personally think we’re dealing with a very serious problem here,” Fauci said. “There are a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of known things about monkeypox, but there are still a lot of unknowns. So we really need to implement the interventions that we have, have a much better idea of ​​the natural history and reach and absolutely reaching out to the community, and that’s why I think the combination of Bob and Demetre is a really good combination.”

The monkeypox virus is spread through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugs, hugs, and kisses, as well as sharing bedding, towels, and clothing. Until now, the people who got sick were mainly men who have sex with men. But health officials point out that the virus can infect anyone. The virus can cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

The United States saw its first confirmed case of the monkeypox virus on May 18 and now has more than 5,800 confirmed infections.

The coordinator and deputy coordinator announcement reflects the Biden administration’s response to COVID-19, when the president centralized virus response operations out of the West Wing, first under Jeff Zients and now with the Dr Ashish Jha.

Scientists say that, unlike campaigns to stop COVID-19, mass vaccinations against monkeypox will not be necessary. They believe targeted use of available doses, along with other measures, could stop expanding epidemics that were recently designated by the World Health Organization as a global health emergency.

Still, the Biden administration has faced criticism over the pace of availability of the monkeypox vaccine. Clinics in major cities like New York and San Francisco say they have not received enough two-shot vaccine to meet demand and some have had to stop offering the second dose of the vaccine to ensure supply for people. first doses. The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses of the vaccine available and helped boost national diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

California on Monday became the second state in three days to declare a public health emergency over monkeypox, following action in New York over the weekend, but the Biden administration does not appear to be moving in that direction. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the decision would rest with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis as we work to end the monkeypox epidemic in America,” Becerra said in a statement. “Bob’s experience coordinating the federal and regional response and Demetre’s broad knowledge of the strengths and limitations of our public health systems will be instrumental as we strive to stay ahead of the virus and to advance a whole-of-government response.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday, “The severity of the monkeypox outbreak calls for an experienced and tested leader in emergency response, so it’s no surprise that President Biden called on Bob Fenton for this vital role. Bob has been a critical partner for California, especially during the devastating wildfires and throughout the COVID pandemic.”

AP writer Amanda Seitz contributed.

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