"We're not doing fear": DeSantis blames officials for scaring the public about monkeypox

He’s right that public health messaging is scaring the public needlessly about this virus, although I think he gets their political motivations wrong — deliberately. DeSantis knows that his calling card in 2024 will be his staunch opposition to COVID restrictions following the initial lockdowns in spring 2020, so he’s trying to shoehorn the recent trend of blue states declaring public health emergencies into that narrative. The story he told today about monkeypox warned of liberal authoritarianism, almost to the point of being conspiratorial. First comes the declaration of a public health emergency, he claimed, then comes the inevitable abuse of executive power to limit your freedoms.

I don’t think Democrats are angling to limit personal freedom this time, though. In reality, they’re probably prioritizing personal freedom *too highly* in their messaging about monkeypox. And a smart guy like DeSantis knows that, but the politics of him saying so frankly would be fraught. Watch, then read on.

Last week I noted how some health officials seem more worried about stigmatizing gay men than giving gay men the information they need to steer clear of the virus. The virus *can* infect anyone through sustained close contact, as we’re constantly told, but it *is* infecting gay men with multiple sexual partners almost exclusively. The fact that politicians and health bureaucrats keep emphasizing the first part of that last sentence rather than the second has caused a hugely outsized panic about the threat of infection among the general public. Case in point:

Monogamous couples, whether gay or straight, are unlikely in the extreme to get monkeypox. Women writ large have been highly unlikely to contract it so far. But the fear of stigma has led those who know better to be less than crystal clear about that, which is bad all around. It creates needless anxiety among the huge majority who are at zero risk of infection. And it creates a false sense of security in gay men by leading them to believe their risk is the same as any other American’s. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Dan Savage:

“It was devaluing gay men’s lives and health not to warn gay men,” said Dan Savage, a sex columnist who has criticized the public health response to monkeypox. “Now, here we are, really on the verge of monkeypox being endemic in gay communities all over the world, and how is that for stigma?”

Savage, who is no prude as a proponent of non-monogamous relationships and exploring fetishes, said public health officials should have advised gay men to curb their sex lives at the start of the outbreak in May, which experts suspect was supercharged by large festivals in Europe with rampant sexual activity.

The public health emergencies being declared by Democratic governors and, very shortly now, by the president of the United States aren’t part of a Joe Biden plot to lock down the country. They’re being declared because Dems are afraid of being perceived as not taking a health crisis that’s disproportionately affecting gay men seriously enough. If thousands of those men are being infected, shouldn’t it be considered a national problem? Or do gay men “not count” as equal members of the population? Those are the questions Dems are worried about, particularly given how AIDS was underplayed initially in the 1980s. Declaring an emergency isn’t a prelude to closing bars and restaurants in this case, it’s an easy way for Democrats to say to gays who are now paying close attention to the monkeypox outbreak, “Message: I care.”

For cripes sake, some health officials are leery of even asking gay men to limit their sex partners — just for a little while! — in the name of slowing the spread, despite knowing that the more cases there are the greater the risk there is that the virus will become endemic. They’re willing to go full authoritarian when the entire public is affected by their policies but accuse them of being insensitive to a “vulnerable community” and suddenly they’re the hardest of hardcore libertarians.

I understand why DeSantis preferred to sidestep making those points and to opt instead for the more familiar “they’re coming to take your freedoms” narrative, though. It plays better with the base. Plus, anything he said that even faintly implied that monkeypox is a “gay disease” would have led the media to brutalize him for supposedly stigmatizing them, especially in the aftermath of the “don’t say gay” bill.

If he wants to score points on the White House the next time he talks about this, though, may I suggest reminding the country that Team Biden had a chance to secure millions of doses of monkeypox vaccine several months ago — and blew it?

The shortage of vaccines to combat a fast-growing monkeypox outbreak was caused in part because the Department of Health and Human Services failed early on to ask that bulk stocks of the vaccine it already owned be bottled for distribution, according to multiple administration officials familiar with the matter.

By the time the federal government placed its orders, the vaccine’s Denmark-based manufacturer, Bavarian Nordic, had booked other clients and was unable to do the work for months, officials said — even though the federal government had invested well over $1 billion in the vaccine’s development.

The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak. It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.

As recently as May 23, the White House allowed Bavarian Nordic to distribute more than 200,000 doses owned by the United States to European countries, compounding the eventual shortage here at home. DeSantis should make sure the public knows that. “Biden promised during the campaign that he’d shut down the virus. Well, when it comes to shutting down viruses, he’s now 0 for 2.”

I’ll leave you with this entirely apt point, also from today’s press conference. I said the same thing myself in a post recently.