After finally declaring the monkeypox virus a public health emergency earlier this month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said at a news briefing: “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”
Unfortunately, if there’s one thing you can count on with our federal government, it’s fuck up the handling of a national health crisis.
Around the same time Becerra made that proclamation, the New York Times reported that the shortage of vaccines to combat the monkeypox outbreak was caused in part by the federal agency Becerra leads failing early on to ask that bulk stocks of the vaccine the U.S. government already owned be bottled for distribution. Yet in that same press conference, Becerra shifted blame on state and local governments for the lack of testing and vaccines to help curb the rising cases across the country.
“We believe that we’ve done what helps our state and local health care partners stay ahead of this, and we’ll continue to monitor because we cannot let this get out of control,” explained Becerra, who previously served as a congressman and attorney general of California. “And we will do everything on our part to be a good partner to our state and local governments, who ultimately are the ones that determine how health care is administered in their jurisdictions.”
That sounds like a lawyer toying with the truth in order to play politics and duck responsibility for his failures as an agency head—and based on more recent reporting, that was indeed Becerra’s motivation.
“He doesn’t want to take the heat for others,” one senior administration official told Politico. “He’s just out of his depth.”
Meanwhile, state and local health officials are seeing the federal government ship what little vaccination supply they do have to the wrong locations. Just as bad, they’ve sent some out with no labels, which has resulted in an inability to track shipments in addition to a bunch of other reported errors.
President Biden’s motivations in selecting Becerra for this position did not point to his experience in healthcare; rather, it was to fill a void. There were other people of a similar background with real credentials for the job Biden could have turned to. He chose not to and apparently ignored warnings from the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about him based on their history.
Now others have to bear the brunt of Biden’s poor choice and Becerra’s inadequacies. Unfortunately, a lot of those people are Black men.
According to a CDC report, based on available monkeypox case data, more than half of the cases (54 percent) were among Blacks and Latinos.
However, in states like North Carolina and Georgia, Black people account for up to 80 percent of cases. Despite making up 70 percent of the cases in North Carolina, Black men are only getting 24 percent of the available vaccines. And Bloomberg recently reported that in major cities like Chicago, Washington D.C., and Atlanta, more than half of monkeypox vaccine doses have gone to White people.
Some people really believe it’s just a gay virus and someone like me should be the focus rather than the federal government once again dropping the ball and making Black folks suffer the worst.
I have bore witness to the disparities of vaccine access in real time.
Last Saturday, I tried to get a monkeypox vaccine outside of Los Angeles. It took all of two seconds for me to immediately recognize that I would have to make like Aaliyah, dust myself off and try again another day.
It was a very long line at 11:00 a.m.—a queue primarily comprised of White men.
It was 94 degrees.
I was not about to stand in that long-ass line full of White people in the heat knowing damn well there is a limited supply and the White folks had numbers on their side.
It felt like trying to get a Covid vaccine injected into my arm all over again. I’m going to try again on a weekday at another location less likely to have as many travelers.
This should be a lot easier by now. The federal government was ready for a smallpox outbreak related to a bioterror attack. Why couldn’t officials use that same supply to cure this crisis?
Well, as authors like Steven Thrasher and television personalities such as Jonathan Van Ness have highlighted, it seems rooted in homophobia.
When your handling of a health crisis has been compared to the gross negligence of the AIDS crisis, perhaps it’s time to step aside and let someone who can better run the Department of Health and Human Services do so.
Still, while it may be a virus primarily impacting men that have sex with men, health officials have already warned that it can and will spread outside of the community. There are rising pediatric cases. A dog has recently contracted monkeypox from a human.
It does not help the growing misinformation that is rapidly spreading online and already annoying gay men like me who just want to get a fade in peace without hearing some dumb shit.
Some people really believe it’s just a gay virus and that they can’t get it. Or that someone like me should be the focus rather than the federal government once again dropping the ball and making Black folks suffer the worst because of it. I would allow people to be stupid in private, but not when it can impact so many of us.
Even if he can’t do his job well, Becerra is at least correct that we should all be taking this more seriously and responsibly.