HARLEM, Manhattan — The handling of the monkeypox outbreak in New York by federal and local health officials was the target of criticism on Monday.
A variety of people, from a local member of Congress, to community leaders and people trying to get the monkeypox vaccine, said that protecting the public from the virus should be much easier than it’s been.
As part of the criticism, Rep. Ritchie Torres, an openly gay Democrat whose district is in the Bronx, called for a federal investigation of the Health and Human Services Department’s handling of the monkeypox epidemic.
“The United States has a long and ugly history of callously ignoring the public health needs of the LGBTQ community,” Torres said at a news conference on Monday morning, “and history seems to be repeating itself.”
The monkeypox disease in the U.S. has been contracted by New York residents far more than people from any other state, and most of the cases are among the LGBTQ+ community. Torres mentioned those facts in a letter that he sent to Christi Grimm, the inspector general for Health and Human Services on Monday. It asked her to investigate the federal agency’s rollout of the vaccine.
He specifically cited a delay in inspection of more than a million doses of monkeypox vaccine earmarked for use in the U.S. that went uninspected by the FDA at a facility in Denmark.
The doses “were left to languish in freezers,” Torres said, and by the time the FDA was able to reach the facility and inspect, the doses were expired. It was a move “disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ community,” said Torres.
He stood with two Bronx-based LGBTQ activists to explain the issues. Torres, along with Sage Rivera of Destination Tomorrow and Ed Garcia Conde of Welcome2TheBronx, said demand far outstrips supply.
Of the nearly 1,500 monkeypox cases in the U.S., about a third are in New York City. But the city has only received about 10 percent of the doses, according to federal sources.
On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that she hopes to have an announcement by mid-week of at least 30,000 more doses for the state. Also, the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene said that it’s been able to vaccinate 4,000 people a day, and that the only reason that it can’t make more vaccination appointments is that supplies are so short.