Senator Burr Demands Clarity on Biden Admin’s Strategy to Respond to Monkeypox Outbreak

Burr: HHS’ pattern of reactive policymaking is disturbing

July 13, 2022

Today, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra demanding clarity on the Biden Administration’s strategy to respond to the ongoing monkeypox outbreak.

“Despite the once in a century pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, the US response to an existing threat is falling short, failing to develop and issue a research plan to understand the threat and its characteristics, failing to rapidly engage the private sector to develop tests for the virus, and failing to make vaccines quickly available and help states effectively use them,” writes Senator Burr.

In the letter, Senator Burr highlighted the egregious failures of the Biden Administration to create and implement a response strategy, once again falling behind the curve as the virus spread and failing to learn from similar and devastating mistakes made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Failure #1: The lack of a clear, concise, and efficient research plan to understand the threats facing Americans.

“[T]he federal government has not articulated a comprehensive and clear research plan to better understand these differences and verify our previous assumptions about the virus. Federal public health officials also did not effectively communicate these differences in clinical presentation to health care providers early in the response, which likely delayed or even missed the identification of cases.”

Failure #2: Despite investing $100 billion in testing capacity for COVID-19, the testing response is slow, inaccurate, and testing uptake is still low.

“Similar to the early stages of the COVID-19 response, the CDC has primarily utilized state and local public health laboratories to perform tests, and the process of getting approval to test a suspected case has required health care professionals to consult with public health officials, delaying diagnosis, contact tracing, and treatment. In another failure, the administration did not announce their engagement with commercial laboratories, which have the expertise and capacity to scale up testing, until June 22.

“The signs were there. HHS should have acted on the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic particularly that an effective response requires swift engagement of the private sector and an immediate increase to testing.”

Failure #3: The absence of a vaccination plan and strategy, even though a vaccine already exists to fight this threat. 

“Beyond failures in testing, the administration’s strategy to utilize vaccines and treatments that are effective against monkeypox has also been appalling. We have vaccines and treatments that we can use during this response.”

“Yet, the administration waited until June 28 to announce an ‘enhanced’ strategy to offer vaccines to at-risk individuals, in addition to known contacts. This strategy was announced only after some local jurisdictions had already begun using vaccine doses in this manner, which suggests that the announcement was neither strategic nor the result of proactive planning but, rather, an after-the-fact reaction to decisions made by local leaders who were quick to respond.”

“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 (HHS).”

In the letter, Senator Burr requested detailed answers to a range of questions, which include a strategy and research plan for acknowledging response gaps, how the department is working with laboratories to screen and analyze cases, and how it intends to clarify vaccine doses and treatment courses. Answers to these questions are requested no later than July 21, 2022.

To read the full letter, click here.