Biden announces monkeypox response team

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who now works for the CDC and previously served in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, will be the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator.
Donna Aceto

President Joe Biden has assembled a two-person leadership team dedicated to fighting monkeypox across the United States in the face of growing pressure on the White House to take bolder action to confront the outbreak.

Robert Fenton of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be the White House national monkeypox response coordinator and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator, the Biden administration announced on August 2.

The two leaders will be charged with overseeing efforts to maintain the availability of tests, vaccinations, and treatments. They will spearhead the monkeypox response for the White House and all federal agencies while also working in coordination with officials at the local and state level to ensure sufficient supply of tests, vaccines, and treatments. They will also help in efforts to spread awareness of monkeypox across communities and work with physicians.

Fenton, the regional director for FEMA’s Region 9 in the American West, previously worked as the acting administrator of FEMA and was hailed by the administration for his emergency management experience. Fenton’s work has also involved leading humanitarian operations and natural disasters.

Prior to working for the CDC, Daskalakis spent years working for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where he served as the deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control and helped in the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also worked as a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS and in LGBTQ healthcare. In 2020, Daskalakis was named the director of the division of HIV/AIDS Prevention within the CDC.

“We look forward to partnering with Bob Fenton and Demetre Dasklalakis as we work to end the monkeypox outbreak in America,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a written statement. “Bob’s experience in federal and regional response coordination, and Demetre’s vast knowledge of our public health systems’ strengths and limits will be instrumental as we work to stay ahead of the virus and advance a whole-of-government response.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci voiced support for the appointments and expressed confidence in both Fenton and Daskalakis as he underscored the importance of a coordinated response to the outbreak.

“From Bob’s work at FEMA leading COVID-19 mass vaccination efforts and getting vaccines to underserved communities to Demetre’s extensive experience and leadership on health equity and STD and HIV prevention, this team will allow the Biden administration to further accelerate and strengthen its monkeypox response,” Fauci said in a written statement.

The two appointments coincide with calls by activists to ramp up the federal government’s campaign against monkeypox at a time when vaccines have been slow to roll out. The lack of supply in the face of sky-high demand has led some health departments to temporarily focus on administering only one dose of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine until there is greater supply.

One of the most recent batches of vaccines rolled out during the final week of July when the federal government announced the distribution of nearly 800,000 doses nationwide, including more than 100,000 in New York State. Becerra said during a July 28 press call that the United States expects to receive seven million doses by May.

The CDC has counted nearly 6,000 cases of monkeypox nationwide. New York City alone has reported 1,512 cases — and most of the cases have occurred among men who have sex with men.

Some states, including New York and California, have declared states of emergency due to monkeypox, allowing for more immediate steps to fight the outbreak — including opening up a wider range of professionals to administer the vaccine. Cities such as New York City and San Francisco have made similar declarations at the local level.