(The Hill) – A coalition of LGBT organizations called on the Biden administration on Wednesday to expand testing and vaccine access for the monkeypox virus, warning that if no action is taken, California could become the epicenter for the disease.
In a letter addressed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, the coalition raised alarm over the number of monkeypox cases — also known as hMPXV — that are affecting men who have sex with men and the transgender community.
“We, at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, are fearful that the government’s history of not taking the necessary action to protect the LGBT community when facing a public health threat is repeating itself with the current Monkeypox response,” said Joe Hollendoner, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, in a press release.
Thus far, the United States has recorded close to 2,000 monkeypox cases, according to the groups. Of those, California has 267 confirmed cases. Experts say that the number of cases is almost certainly higher due to the lack of testing.
“As of July 15, 2022, San Francisco had 86 known cases and Los Angeles County reported 109 known cases. Given a number of factors — including difficulty accessing testing and lack of awareness from both patients and providers about hMPVX — these numbers are likely a vast underestimate of the true number of hMPXV cases,” the groups wrote.
In the press release, the coalition warned that should the federal government fail to ramp up testing and access to vaccines, California could become the epicenter of virus in the U.S.
“The rate of infection and unmet needs will slowly push California to become the epicenter of the virus. Though hMPXV is known to have a short incubation period and is not fatal, fear of the virus is growing,” the groups wrote.
The coalition called on Walensky to take action against the outbreak by expanding testing and vaccine access.
The U.S. National Stockpile doesn’t have a large number of Jynneos vaccine — a shot that has been used in the past to prevent smallpox and is also used for monkeypox.
The coalition also called on the administration to change the name of the virus. The groups argued that the name needed to be changed because the current strain has no clear link to West Africa where the “virus typically originates.” Additionally, they argued the association with West Africa could lead to stigma and discrimination.
The letter to Walensky was signed by Equality California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
The warning from the LGBT groups comes one day after Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, expressed concern that the U.S. response to the monkeypox outbreak was lacking.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Murray cited issues that men who have sex with men have faced at the local level receiving care for the virus.
At the end of June, both New York City and Washington, D.C., ran out of vaccines less than one day after launching their immunization initiatives.