Jonathan Van Ness: US response to monkeypox is inadequate
I remember the date the US confirmed first case of monkeypox. It was mid-May, and I just had an interview Steven Thrasher for my podcast, Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. He has a new book, Viral’s lower classabout different classes of people bearing the unequal burden of the costs of the virus — fitting, because since then, cases of monkeypox have increased exponentially, primarily affecting to gay men.
Watching the government’s unprovoked response to monkeypox is bizarre, and in many ways, I believe it is fueled by homophobia and transphobia. When an outbreak affects mostly men who have sex with men, some of our elected lawmakers will have no incentive to act. They think it won’t touch their constituents, which is obviously messed up because people’s lives are at stake, and there are oddballs in all 50 states.
A few weeks ago, one of my close friends was supposed to visit me in New Orleans, where I was filming. Queer’s Eye, but he was infected with monkeypox and was unable to travel. I started calling all the political connections I had, sounding the alarm about how rapidly cases were rising and begging officials to take the virus more seriously.
I am really disappointed in our leaders, especially those who are in power during the AIDS crisis, like President Biden and Speaker Pelosi. Again, we see too little action being taken until the situation spirals out of control. If nothing changes, we will continue to get errors like this response, which has been plagued by too few tests, lack of access to treatments, Insufficient vaccine supplyand vague instructions.
Since smallpox cases in monkeys started to increase in June, the government should have taken more proactive steps. The US has an inadequate vaccine supply, and this the shortage could have been prevented. If our government does not prioritize stronger access to vaccines, the outbreak will become an even bigger problem. We have seen, in recent history, that the government buys a lot of vaccines quickly. Why don’t we see this administration prioritizing the rapid procurement of monkeypox vaccines?
I’m really lucky because I’m in a place in my life where I have a home, money, and access to protection. I have a therapist. But I’m really worried about the gay community and the people who will be asked to quarantine every three weeks because they test positive – people who are going through excruciating pain and don’t have what I have.
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I want our elected officials to think about these already marginalized people and come up with a plan. Who takes care of them? When the government feared that the auto industry was about to fall into crisis, they gave them billions of dollars. When they feared that the airlines were about to fall into crisis, they gave them billions of dollars. When they feared the economy was in crisis, they sent a check for $1,400. We need to make sure these people have money to pay rent and bills, and order groceries. We must protect each other.
Declare monkeypox a federal public health emergency August 4th was a step in the right direction—but a day late and a dollar short. Anything that lacks strong access to vaccines for all gays in the country and easily accessible TPOXX treatment, is a blatant disregard for our government’s responsibility. This is how young gay people become disenfranchised and disillusioned and believe their leaders don’t care about them.
I make this joke in my stand-up routine — it’s funny to see how frankly people are shocked by the government’s response to COVID-19, because we say, ‘Honey, today is the day. Tuesday. Do you think the government will come to your aid? ‘ We’re used to this kind of inaction. Monkeypox is like: same day, different virus.
I think tragedy, hope, despair and resilience can all live side by side. But we need to act. For starters, everyone should spend some space in their lives learning about this virus — to educate themselves about monkeypox people, How does it spread?and how do you feel.
If you’ve seen it Queer’s Eye and “Yes, Your Majesty” with me, I have a request for you: put pressure on your state and federal representatives to improve access to vaccines. Let your legislators know that this is a priority for you as a voter.
It’s really sad to see in real time how people appreciate issues they don’t think affect them. Everyone should care about monkeypox — because we should care about each other. That’s true regardless of your own opinion of what someone’s lifestyle might be.
And remember: right now it’s monkeypox, but still HIV. There are still all those other illnesses that people have, and there are too many stigmas and too many barriers around accessing care. This is not just a story about monkeypox. This is a story about how we constantly fail those on the sidelines. We have to get bold about what we’re willing to see — and no one should be ready to see this outbreak spread over the past two months.
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