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Blumenthal: ‘The federal government is failing’ in its response to monkeypox

 U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks at a press conference about monkeypox, along with other Connecticut public health officials.
Chris Rakoczy
Hartford HealthCare
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) speaks at a news conference about monkeypox along with Connecticut public health officials.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was one of several officials calling for a more robust federal response to the monkeypox outbreak at a news conference Monday.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the state has about 800 doses of the monkeypox vaccine on hand, with 4,000 more on the way. The federal government has agreed to send more once the current supply has been exhausted, but Blumenthal argues that still won’t be enough.

“We will exhaust that supply within a week or so. The epicenter has been New York. What did we learn from COVID? It can spread to Westchester, to Fairfield County,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to wait to exhaust our supply and then go back to the federal government for more.”

Blumenthal called on President Joe Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act in order to fast-track vaccine production.

“The president can invoke the Defense Production Act tomorrow and tell the manufacturers of other vaccines, other drugs: ‘Switch your product.’ It may take a little time to do, but we did it during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Blumenthal said the current national supply of monkeypox vaccine would likely cover only one-third of the at-risk population.

Officials at the news conference stressed that while transmission in the U.S. has primarily been seen among men who have sex with men, anybody can contract the virus through prolonged physical contact, not necessarily sexual contact.

“It’s been nationally reported that two children have gotten monkeypox,” said Manisha Juthani, the state’s public health commissioner, “They were household exposures of other people who were in the primarily affected group.”

Health officials and LGBTQ advocates warned against making assumptions about who is at risk of contracting monkeypox.

“It creates a system of othering, where people who are not members of a certain group or identity community do not think they have to worry,” said Cadence Pentheny, a community educator at Triangle Community Center, a Norwalk-based advocacy group for Connecticut’s LGBTQ community.

Anthony Crisci, interim director of Circle Care Center, a primary care facility for LGBTQ people in Fairfield County, said the low number of vaccine doses is influencing the CDC’s current guidelines and subsequently excluding people who may be at higher risk of contracting the virus.

“I’m advocating for front-line workers at clinics, community centers, bars, sex workers, massage therapists – anyone who could be exposed to this virus as an occupational risk,” Crisci said. “[They] should also qualify for the vaccine. Under CDC guidelines right now, they do not.”

The state Department of Public Health recommends keeping an eye out for rashes and unexplained blisters, especially on the genitals. It recommends testing for anyone who suspects that they may have been exposed. A list of clinics offering testing and vaccinations, as well as other information about the virus, is available on the department’s website.

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