COVID-19 lessons fall short for monkeypox response, experts say

The nation's shortcomings in responding to the monkeypox outbreak around messaging and vaccines are strikingly familiar to those of the pandemic, health experts told PBS NewsHour in an Aug. 15 report. 

"We're seeing a lot of Groundhog Day," Saskia Popescu, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government in Fairfax, Va., told PBS. "The lessons we thought we’d learned with COVID haven't made as much of a difference as we would have liked."

Experts say the U.S. is grappling with similar issues around messaging to the public, data transparency and equitable access to vaccines and treatments, among other challenges. For example, as monkeypox began spreading globally among men who have sex with men, public health officials failed to work with the LGBTQ community to effectively address the spread, similar to how the U.S. failed to prevent COVID-19's disproportionate toll on historically marginalized communities early in the pandemic, according to Dr. Popescu. 

The pandemic also pushed many public health officials to retire or resign, meaning the nation now has a much smaller public health workforce to address the monkeypox outbreak. The White House has secured funding to rebuild this workforce, but the process has been slow, according to Joshua Barocas, MD, a physician researcher and associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. 

“All that infrastructure is already there, and yet, we’ve squandered everything we’ve learned,” he told PBS.

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