House Oversight chair calls on HHS to address ‘barriers’ to monkeypox treatments

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Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Wednesday asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the “barriers” to monkeypox treatment that people have reported dealing with so far.

Maloney said she was concerned by the sparse availability of vaccines for monkeypox as well as the limited capacity for testing for the virus that has been noted in the U.S. She noted how quickly appointments to receive vaccines like Jynneos filled up in major cities as well as the lack of rapid testing for monkeypox.

“In addition to access to vaccines and testing, patients who have contracted MPV must be able to obtain appropriate treatment,” Maloney wrote.

“In recent days, reports have emerged that patients are facing barriers and extreme difficulties in accessing TPOXX, the only antiviral medication clinically shown to decrease duration of disease and reduce the risk of fatality,” the congresswoman added, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently approves the administration of the drug on a case-by-case basis.

“These barriers to accessing treatment implicate health equity, as evidence suggests that the patients most likely to access TPOXX currently have private insurance or a primary care physician, which many Americans lack,” she added.

Maloney requested a staff briefing from HHS to answer questions on what the department is doing to ensure affordable access to monkeypox treatments.

The New York representative is the most recent of several high-ranking Congress members to have demanded answers from HHS explaining the U.S.’s response to the monkeypox virus, which has been criticized by some as slow and insufficient.

As of Wednesday, over 2,300 monkeypox cases have been confirmed in the U.S., though more are likely to have been infected without having been tested. Across the U.S., individuals have reported difficulty in accessing tests and vaccines, with some saying they have had to wait several days to a week before hearing back from public health workers.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra this week saying she was “concerned” by U.S. monkeypox response.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the response so far was “disturbing” and “reactive.”

“Your failures to act are a threat to public health, and especially for gay and bisexual men who are at highest risk,” Burr wrote to Becerra.

The Hill has reached out to HHS for comment.

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