Top GOP senator slams HHS for ‘disturbing’ response to monkeypox

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North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) on Thursday slammed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its response to the monkeypox outbreak so far, bemoaning that the agency was “failing to learn from the devastating effects of COVID-19.”

Burr wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra that the monkeypox response was “falling short” despite the country’s experience navigating through the pandemic.

“The administration has the tools and authorities necessary to combat these threats. Your failures to act are a threat to public health, and especially for gay and bisexual men who are at highest risk,” wrote Burr. “The government failed this population at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we should not fail them again.”

Burr, who sits on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, criticized the absence of a clear research plan to better understand monkeypox as well as what he perceived to be a lack of communication coming from federal public health officials.

The senator also took aim at the “reactive” testing response to monkeypox, writing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was “repeating the same mistakes” it had made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This pattern of reactive policymaking is disturbing. Planning for national-level medical countermeasure needs has been articulated by Congress as a core responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services,” Burr wrote.

The senator demanded to know what HHS’s strategy for addressing monkeypox is, including what is being done to facilitate more widespread, rapid testing for the virus. He also asked how the agency plans on expediting vaccinations against monkeypox for Americans.

Several laboratories including Labcorp’s facility in Burr’s state of North Carolina, the Mayo Clinic’s laboratories and Quest Diagnostics have all begun accepting tests for monkeypox.

The Hill has reached out to HHS for comment.

As of Thursday, nearly a thousand cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the U.S., though this number is almost certainly an undercount due to the lag in testing as well as the many individuals who may not be aware that they have been infected.

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