John Oliver addressed the growing number of monkeypox cases in the United States on Sunday night’s episode of HBO Max’s Last week tonight. The comedian expressed his frustration that “despite the fact that we are still in the midst of the COVID pandemic, we seem to be replicating some of his major mistakes.”
Oliver listed that some of the factors that are not helping to bring the monkeypox outbreak under control include “the persecution of strangers, the spread of false information, and the mismanagement of the public health response.”
The talk show host explained that monkeypox is a “pox virus” and “is in the same family as smallpox”, but not as transmissible or as deadly. It was in 1958 that monkeypox was first discovered in captive monkeys in Denmark who “got them as if they got them from rodents”. Oliver then shared an ABC News report from 2003 talking about an outbreak of monkeypox linked to pet prairie dogs in the Midwest.
California declared a state of emergency on August 1 after registering nearly 800 cases and the United States followed suit by declaring a health emergency after cases exceeded 7,000 across the country.
Oliver clarified that the majority of cases recorded to date involve “gay and bisexual men and their sexual networks. The virus spreads through sustained skin-to-skin contact and is currently thought to be most commonly spread during sex, although in rare cases it can be spread through respiratory droplets.
Although he knows about the virus and has some tools to control a widespread outbreak, Oliver decried the clumsy containment of the virus.
“At the start of June, we were only doing 10 total tests a day across the country – dropping to just 60 by the end of the month,” Oliver said.
Although testing has intensified, the only test authorized by the FDA detects the virus by swabbing the lesions, but a person would have to wait until they appear to run the test, which is unconventional because it might have other symptoms beforehand. Oliver noted that until testing improves, there won’t be a good indicator of the extent of the virus.
“Every part of our early response to this made it harder than necessary,” he added. “I will say there have been some improvements recently. We’ve seen progress in testing, more vaccines are finally coming, and large numbers are expected to start arriving in October. »
However, Oliver then wondered if the delays in resolving the issues had anything to do with “who was hit the hardest”.
“You have to believe that if monkeypox were largely spread through heterosexual sex, things would be dramatically different,” Oliver said. “It is not homophobic to recognize who is currently most affected, i.e. gay and bisexual men, sex workers and people who have sex with multiple partners. What is homophobic is when you blame or shame people who are suffering or when you decide you don’t need to care because you don’t see their life as precious or their suffering as consequential and this This is where there are strong echoes of the AIDS crisis in some discussions around monkeypox.
Oliver suggests that information about monkeypox protection be presented in a more “gender positive” light, as it would be more likely to be well received.
“The next 6-8 weeks are going to be crucial, so we need to ramp up testing and data collection and get vaccines and antivirals to those who need them most,” Oliver suggested in the short term. “We also need to make quarantine more logistically possible for people, as monkeypox can require up to 4 weeks in isolation and for many this will be difficult to manage without additional support.”
In the long term, Oliver suggested, “we really need to restructure our public health system so it’s better able to respond to a viral outbreak.”