Biden’s Monkeypox Failure

One of the leading assertions of the 2020 Presidential Campaign was that Joe Biden would better handle the Covid pandemic response than Donald Trump. Undoubtedly, many Americans believed, or wanted to believe, that was true.

Allysia Finley, writing for The Wall Street Journal, believes we now know the answer, based on the Biden Administration’s response to the monkeypox outbreak. She says, “Donald Trump was unlucky that a once-in-a-century pandemic struck in his re-election year. And Joe Biden is lucky that the current monkeypox outbreak is relatively mild. But his administration’s bumbling response belies Mr. Biden’s 2020 argument that he would have handled Covid better.”

Monkeypox, unlike Covid-19, has been around a long time. It was first identified in lab animals in 1958 and is a close relative of smallpox, though it is less lethal and contagious. Periodic outbreaks have occurred in Central and West Africa, where the virus is endemic and spreads among wild animals. Humans can catch it through direct contact with the skin lesions of an infected animal or person. A small U.S. outbreak in 2003 was linked to rodents imported from Ghana by an exotic pet dealer. The virus infected 71 Americans, but was quickly contained with the help of the smallpox vaccine. No one died.

This outbreak, coupled with growing concerns about bioterrorism, prompted Washington to seek a safer, more effective vaccine against smallpox and monkeypox. As a result, the federal government began to support the development of a new vaccine by Bavarian Nordic called Jynneos. In 2017, the Trump Administration awarded Bavarian a 10-year contract for freeze-dried vaccines, giving the U.S. rights to an estimated 13 million doses. The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine in 2019, and in 2020 the Trump Administration ordered 1.4 million doses in case of an emergency.

So far, so good. The Trump Administration had done its job to prepare the U.S. for the next monkeypox outbreak. Finley says, “So when the first monkeypox cases popped up in mid-May, the U.S. had the benefit of scientific knowledge, experience and a ready-made vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 14,115 cases nationwide as of August 18, probably an underestimate since the virus can look similar to other diseases. No deaths have been reported in the U.S., but Biden officials’ inept response has made the outbreak far worse than it might have been.”

On May 22nd, President Biden said monkeypox was “something that everybody should be concerned about,” although reports indicated that the virus was mainly spreading among gay men. (Epidemiologists report 98% of U.S. cases thus far have been among gay men.) But then officials of the Biden Administration rushed to tamp down a brewing panic. “This is a virus we understand,” White House Covid response coordinator Ashish Jha said. “We have vaccines against it. We have treatments against it. It’s not as contagious as Covid. So I am confident we’re going to be able to keep our arms around it.”

But overconfidence got the better of prudence. At the time, the government had a mere 2,400 usable doses of Jynneos vaccine in its Strategic National Stockpile – enough to inoculate only 1,200 people. The other doses the Trump Administration had ordered earlier were filled at Bavarian’s new “fill and finish” factory in Denmark, which had been operating since early 2021. But the Biden FDA didn’t certify the facility until July 27, meaning that those doses couldn’t be distributed. As cases mounted, the administration ordered millions more doses in late June and July, but they too couldn’t be delivered until later this year or next.

In a vain effort to stretch the government supply, the FDA this month approved a new method for injecting vaccines in the upper skin layer, which would allow each single-dose vial to be split into five doses. Bavarian CEO Paul Chaplin warned officials in a letter that there was “very limited safety data available” to support this method, and local officials complained that healthcare workers weren’t trained in the different technique. Nevertheless, Biden Administration officials last week told states they would send them more doses only if they adopted this protocol!

As if this wasn’t bad enough, doses were misdirected because the administration used antiquated computer systems to distribute them to states, which couldn’t track the shipments. “Our response is completely inefficient and breaking the back of state and local responders,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, told the New York Times.

While all this is going on, some 1.7 million courses of smallpox antiviral treatment, which could help patients, sit in Washington’s stockpile. European regulators have approved the drug to treat monkeypox, but the FDA has not, and the CDC is restricting access by requiring doctors to complete mounds of paperwork to prescribe it. The reason for this is that the National Institutes of Health wants to conduct a randomized controlled trial. This could delay treatment for many patients for years to come.

Finley concludes, “The Biden Administration’s haphazard monkeypox response may cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to suffer needlessly. Why should we think Mr. Biden would have done any better with Covid?” The answer is self-evident.



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