The Biden administration is on a “mission” to make sure LGBTQ+ people are “respected and heard” in its response to the monkeypox outbreak.
The president’s newly-appointed monkeypox response deputy coordinator, Dr Demetre Daskalakis, spoke to queer media on Friday (5 August) to outline how the government will avoid stigma, while also reaching LGBTQ+ people most at risk of contracting the virus.
Health experts have condemned media coverage of the outbreak as “homophobic and racist”, but Daskalakis told PinkNews that the Biden administration is working hard to decrease this kind of rhetoric surrounding monkeypox.
Daskalakis said: “This is my third day on the job, and one of the things that I found the most remarkable in my very first interaction with the president was the importance of the LGBTQ+ community and our need to make sure that they’re feeling respected and heard.
“From the highest level, there’s a very clear commitment that that’s part of the mission of this response.”
Daskalakis, who has worked as the CDC’s HIV/ AIDS prevention director, said that the tools needed to avoid health-related stigma are a “lesson learned from HIV”.
He continued: “You can create stigma in a moment and that can last for decades. It’s the role of government and governmental public health to be a role model to help media have language that works, so we don’t propagate stigma.”
Daskalakis said the government is taking a two-pronged approach: using clear and neutral language in its guidance, making it “evergreen and really true for every population” to avoid stigmatising men who have sex with men, while engaging in “intensive community outreach that lets us get that information to people who are in the LGBTQ+ community, those who are overrepresented in this outbreak”.
This outreach means working with LGBTQ+ organisations, to make sure that the queer community is hearing vital information from “trusted messengers”, he added.
US to receive next batch of monkeypox vaccines ahead of schedule
Dr Demetre Daskalakis said that the US echoed controversial World Health Organization guidance that suggested those at risk of monkeypox reduce their number of sexual partners, but told LGBTQ+ publications: “This is not a forever thing. It is a for now thing as we work to scale up biomedical interventions.”
He said that the government was making “progress” on improving vaccine availability, and that 150,000 doses of the Jynneos/ Imvanex vaccine would be arriving two months ahead of schedule.
“This is 150,000 doses that are on top of the 1.1 million doses that we’ve already allocated,” he added.
“So there is still a supply and demand mismatch, but there’s a lot of progress in the right direction.”