Senator Murray: “The monkeypox response so far has not been encouraging—but there are some clear signs of progress, and there are clear steps we can, and should, take to improve.”
***WATCH: Senator Murray’s opening remarks***
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), led a hearing on the federal response to the monkeypox outbreak.
At the hearing, Senator Murray pushed top health officials from the Biden Administration for a stronger, more equitable response to the monkeypox outbreak, which has disproportionately harmed the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color. While Senator Murray noted that the rate of new cases is going down and important progress has been made on testing, vaccines, and outreach following early missteps, she underscored the need to remain vigilant and do more to get communities the tools and guidance needed to respond. In particular, she pressed for the Biden administration’s plans to ensure people can get tested for monkeypox and receive results quickly, increase vaccine supply and improve distribution, and ensure students, parents, and educators have the guidance they need to stay safe with the new school year underway.
“The U.S. now has over 21,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox—more than anywhere else in the world, and my home state of Washington has over 500 cases. I’ve heard from families who are rightly concerned by how bad this has gotten, and public health officials—including back in Washington state—who are frustrated to see our response run into issues we should be prepared for by now,” said Senator Murray. “That’s why I continue to push the Biden Administration about my concerns with the monkeypox response, and urge quick action: on testing, treatments, and vaccines, and on clear guidance to the public, health care providers, and state public health officials. So it’s reassuring to see we are making progress.”
Senator Murray also underscored the importance of ensuring an equitable response to an outbreak that has disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community—and pushed administration officials to continue working to get resources and guidance where they are needed.
“We are seeing inequities worsen this outbreak for some communities. Advocates in the LGBTQ+ community—who have faced the vast majority of cases—have also made clear they feel they are being overlooked, or in some instances stigmatized. We need to keep focusing and improving on outreach and on getting information and resources—like vaccines—to those who are most in need, and most at risk. And that must include communities of color, who we know don’t have equitable access to vaccines,” said Senator Murray.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Murray continued to stress the importance of providing the resources needed to respond to the monkeypox outbreak and to COVID-19 and get communities the tools they need, and she made clear that we must learn from what went wrong in responding to both public health threats, including by passing her PREVENT Pandemics Act and by finally making robust, sustained investments to build and maintain a world-class public health system.
“We have to do better—not just on COVID, not just on monkeypox—but on public health threats, period. Because we know there will be more,” said Senator Murray. “As the saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That starts with building a world-class public health system, rather than one that lags behind our peers. Our communities deserve to be as safe as anyone in the world, which is why Senator Burr and I are continuing to work to pass our PREVENT Pandemics Act … We have to end the cycle of crisis and complacency by making sustained investments that allow us to build, and maintain, robust public health infrastructure at all levels.”
Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are available below:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. now has over 21,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox—more than anywhere else in the world, and my home state of Washington has over 500 cases.
“I’ve heard from families who are rightly concerned by how bad this has gotten.
“And public health officials—including back in Washington state—who are frustrated to see our response run into issues we should be prepared for by now.
“That’s why I continue to push the Biden Administration about my concerns with the monkeypox response, and urge quick action: on testing, treatments, and vaccines, and on clear guidance to the public, health care providers, and state public health officials.
“So it’s reassuring to see we are making progress.
“On testing, capacity has increased one thousand percent, and FDA just approved a faster track for additional tests.
“On vaccines, BARDA is helping to stand up a new vaccine fill and finish site in Michigan, HHS is working to expand the number of distribution sites in states, and the Administration’s advice for splitting doses has greatly stretched our vaccine supply.
“On outreach, the Administration has started working with states to make vaccines available at events with many people from the LGBTQ+ community in attendance.
“And perhaps most importantly—the rate of new cases is going down.
“Now that is all encouraging news, but let me be clear— we must remain vigilant in our response. And these promising improvements don’t excuse the issues I have been hearing about from communities, state health officials, and advocates from the start of this outbreak.
“Patients have spoken out about how hard it is to get tested—some even waited days, despite having clear symptoms.
“Providers have had to jump through hoops to get their patients treatments.
“And I’m constantly talking to public health officials in my home state of Washington, who have told me how communications with states could have been far clearer—and faster, and how the challenges in accessing tests and vaccines have delayed our response.
“I know states have especially struggled with the federal government’s decision to forgo the system we typically use to distribute vaccines, the one we are already using for COVID vaccines.
“When it comes to vaccine distribution, some shipments have been sent to the wrong state, and even spoiled after storage at the wrong temperature.
“There have been issues with vaccine supply too—like when thousands of vaccine doses were delayed because FDA had yet to inspect the new plant they were from, or when the Biden Administration missed an opportunity to procure more vaccines at a crucial point in this outbreak.
“And again, we are seeing inequities worsen this outbreak for some communities.
“Advocates in the LGBTQ+ community—who have faced the vast majority of cases—have also made clear they feel they are being overlooked, or in some instances stigmatized.
“We need to keep focusing and improving on outreach and on getting information and resources—like vaccines—to those who are most in need, and most at risk.
“And that must include communities of color, who we know don’t have equitable access to vaccines.
“This is especially important as early data suggest Black and Latino communities are disproportionately burdened by this outbreak.
“We must do better.
“We need to be applying what we learned from the COVID response, and providing the resources communities have made clear they need.
“Of course, there is an enormous difference between this and the COVID pandemic, which is: thanks to decades of investment in smallpox research, we already had tests, treatments, and vaccines ready to go before this crisis even began.
“That should serve as a reminder to all of us about the immense value of investing in public health preparedness.
“But it’s also why the stumbles in getting these tools deployed were especially frustrating and inexcusable.
“To learn from this, we need to be clear-eyed about what went wrong.
“Not just on challenges we faced in the last several months, but that we have faced for decades—challenges that, to be frank, have spanned many Administrations, not just this one.
“For example, we had over 20 million vials of smallpox vaccine in our national stockpile—but they weren’t replaced as they expired over the course of a decade.
“I know I join my Ranking Member and members of this Committee when I say we have to do better—not just on COVID, not just on monkeypox—but on public health threats, period.
“Because we know there will be more. Just last week New York declared an emergency due to polio—yet another public health risk we need to watch closely.
“So I want to hear from our witnesses today about not just what they are doing right now to improve our response to the monkeypox outbreak—and fast—but also how we can fix this in the long term and make sure the stumbles of the past couple months never happen again.
“I want to know what you and the Administration are doing to make sure we have enough tests, treatments, and vaccines for this outbreak—and get them where they need to go while also maintaining an adequate stock of supplies for any smallpox threats.
“What are you doing to improve outreach to the LGBTQ+ community, address the disproportionate harm to Black and Latino communities, fight stigma and misinformation, and right the inequities we’ve seen in our response so far?
“How are we making the most of new research to develop promising vaccines and therapeutics, and then make them more quickly available—while continuing to uphold the gold standard of safety and effectiveness?
“And are we getting schools and colleges everything they need to stay open and keep students and the school community safe?
“I’m glad CDC has provided guidance for K-12 schools—and fortunately the science tells us elementary and secondary school kids are not at high risk right now, and CDC has also released resources for colleges which is critical with students returning to campus this fall.
“We need to make sure colleges and universities are equipped to prevent potential outbreaks as students move into dorms and live in close quarters with each other.
“I realize you’ve got your work cut out for you on all of this, especially with COVID still raging—but there’s no reason for us to fall behind.
“So I’m going to keep pushing you here, because families back in Washington state and across the country are counting on you to get it right.
“That’s also why I’m going to keep pushing my colleagues here in Congress about the need for funding to support all this work.
“I know I’m not the only one here with concerns about the monkeypox response but we can’t just say “this isn’t working” without providing the funding to end this outbreak and build the public health system Americans deserve.
“So I will continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and push to deliver the resources that will help get families the testing, treatments, and vaccines they need.
“And I’m interested in hearing from the witnesses on what the needs are when it comes to investing in our monkeypox response.
“It is also important to me we continue to keep our eyes on the horizon when it comes to future outbreaks and pandemics, and build a stronger public health system for whatever threat comes next.
“As the saying goes—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
“That starts with building a world class public health system, rather than one that lags behind our peers.
“Our communities deserve to be as safe as anyone in the world, which is why Senator Burr and I are continuing to work to pass our PREVENT Pandemics Act.
“Our bipartisan legislation implements the lessons from our COVID response and improves our policies and processes on issues like strengthening supply chains, improving management of our national stockpile, modernizing data systems, and other items which would address many of the challenges we’ve faced with monkeypox.
“But a strong public health system also requires strong investments.
“Because our public health system was underfunded before COVID struck—and it has been overwhelmed ever since.
“We have to end the cycle of crisis and complacency by making sustained investments that allow us to build, and maintain, robust public health infrastructure at all levels.
“And I’m going to keep pushing for all of these steps, because we should all know by now just how much is at stake.
“I can tell you, families in Seattle know, parents in Spokane know, nurses in Yakima know, workers in Olympia know, people across Washington state, and across the country, know: COVID was never going to be the last public health crisis we face—and neither is monkeypox.
“The question is not whether there will be a new threat—it is when it will strike and whether we will be ready.
“The truth is, the monkeypox response so far has not been encouraging—but there are some clear signs of progress, and there are clear steps we can, and should, take to improve.
“And I don’t just want to hear today about the steps you will be taking—I want to see action.
“And you better believe I’ll be watching closely.
“I hope we can work together to build on our progress, end this crisis, and make the kind of improvements we need to put our public health security on solid footing once and for all.
“And now, I’ll turn it over to Senator Burr for his opening remarks.”