EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
We have yet to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us, and already we are facing another public health crisis. New York has declared monkeypox a public health emergency as US cases of the disease tick upward. Once again, the United States is unprepared to keep an emerging virus at bay—and just as unprepared to talk about it.
As we’ve learned that monkeypox disproportionately affects men who have sex with other men, we’ve seen homophobic conspiracy theories spread almost more quickly than the virus itself. Right-wing ideologues, including Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.), have falsely labeled monkeypox a sexually transmitted infection—even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that sex is just one way the virus spreads. Worse, presented with the fact that some young people have contracted the disease, conspiracists are spreading the heinous fiction that gay men are “grooming” children. Meanwhile, not nearly enough vaccines are being distributed, and CDC officials haven’t always clearly communicated who is most at risk and how they can be protected.
These intertwined failures of messaging and policy raise the question: Does the US have epidemic amnesia? The monkeypox response is following an eerily familiar pattern: Viruses begin in a vulnerable population that people in power don’t feel is worthy of their attention and care. Infected people are stigmatized and their suffering is ignored, allowing the virus to spread. Then, only once it’s affecting broader populations—and thus impossible to contain—do those in power take action.
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.