U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) led 11 colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track and address racial disparities in the nation’s public health response to the monkeypox virus (MPV).
“Similar to the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. monkeypox outbreak is disproportionately affecting Black and Latino Americans,” wrote the Senators in a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, limited data/reporting on cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and tests disaggregated by race or ethnicity made it difficult to assess its implications across communities….Over time, federal, state and local data showed that the majority of COVID-19 cases and fatalities affected people of color, with most illnesses and deaths occurring in regions with higher percentages of Black and Latino populations.”
“The devastating racial and ethnic disparities during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the underlying social, economic, and health inequality that has long existed within our health care system due to racial and discriminatory systemic and structural barriers, and the disparities began to narrow with targeted education, outreach, and resource distribution,” continued the Senators.
The Senators highlighted that existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care continue to be seen with the spread of MPV across the country. As of the end of July, Black and Latino people accounted for 26% and 32% of MPV cases with known race and ethnicity information, respectively. Public health experts have expressed concern over the fact that white men appear to be receiving a disproportionately higher share of the MPV vaccine nationally which is undermining efforts to safeguard communities that are more susceptible and have less access to medical resources. “Lack of racially and ethnically disaggregated data on both diagnosis and treatment of MPV will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” highlighted the Senators.
The Senators noted that “Limited state data that is available shows that we are headed towards a concerning trend.” A report issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows that although 70% of MPV cases are in Black men, Black North Carolinians have received less than a quarter of the vaccinations so far. Similar trends are cited in the letter for New Jersey, Atlanta metro area, and Chicago.
“Vaccine access must be equitable, even in the face of high demand,” urged the Senators. “Any federal targeted response and aid must not inadvertently stigmatize the ongoing public health crisis, but there should be intentional outreach to get resources to impacted communities.
The letter was cosigned by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dr. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).