Conservatives don’t see monkeypox, don’t speak monkeypox

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Opinion

On Thursday, the same day the United States declared monkeypox a public health emergency, and two weeks after the World Health Organization classified the outbreak a global health emergency, Manitoba health officials opted for adopting a strategy of complete and utter silence.

Manitoba developed a protocol in June to immunize anyone who has had confirmed contact with a confirmed case. But since then, we have had no warnings or public education, no news briefings to describe the level of threat in Manitoba or to reveal the level of preparedness in the public health system.

At this stage, we don’t know how much vaccine Manitoba has and if it has any chance of getting more should monkeypox officially get out of control.

In the face of a new threat to public health, we are silent. A sepulchral and incomprehensible silence.

In the face of a new threat to public health, we are silent. A sepulchral and incomprehensible silence.

Undeterred by what seemed like a deliberately engineered information blackout, Free Press reporters did their due diligence and reached out to people high and low in the government hierarchy.

Premier Heather Stefanson, available Thursday at a public event, was asked by our reporters about details of the preparations the province was making to prevent monkeypox. She had nothing. Instead, she told reporters to contact Dr. Brent Roussin, the provincial director of public health.

However the Free Press could not reach Roussin. We also attempted to interview Dr. Carol Kurbis, one of the province’s top medical health officials, who made some disturbing comments at a July 21 online forum hosted by a central community harm reduction resource center. Winnipeg city.

At that event, Kurbis acknowledged that other provinces were already offering the Imvamune monkeypox vaccine to high-risk groups as a preventative measure, before they were exposed to a confirmed case. Manitoba continued to limit its vaccine program to people who have been conclusively exposed to the highly contagious virus because “we currently don’t have enough vaccine … for pre-exposure prophylaxis.”

At a time when monkeypox was definitely a top topic in the news cycle, public health leaders simply refused to get involved.

The request to speak with Kurbis was also refused.

At a time when monkeypox was definitely a top topic in the news cycle, public health leaders simply refused to get involved. The low-key approach is perhaps unsurprising, given that the Tory government, like most provinces, has simply stopped talking about COVID-19 even though the pandemic is, once again, a living and growing existential threat.

Still, the monkeypox gag order was a bad image for a government that doesn’t have a good reputation for public health management. Bad enough that advertising experts went to work on Friday in an attempt to remedy the situation.

With a story on the cover of the Free Press Sounding the alarm over the province’s nonchalant approach to monkeypox, secondary rumors began to circulate Friday morning suggesting an announcement was in the works. Finally, at 12:34 pm, a new statement was released outlining plans to expand eligibility for vaccines.

Imvamune will now be available to all Manitobans who identify as gay, bisexual, trans, or two-spirited and have met one of the following criteria: test positive for a sexually transmitted disease; having had two or more sexual partners in the last 21 days, having had anonymous sex or attended places of sexual contact (bathrooms, nightclubs) in the last 21 days or engaging in sex work either as a worker or as a client.

While expanding vaccine eligibility is a good step, it’s unclear whether Manitoba, and other jurisdictions that have also taken a relaxed approach to monkeypox, have once again waited too long to contain the spread of a horrendous disease.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Health Minister Audrey Gordon declined to answer questions about the virus before a news conference she attended on Friday.

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ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Health Minister Audrey Gordon declined to answer questions about the virus before a news conference she attended on Friday.

It would be interesting to ask Health Minister Audrey Gordon, Roussin or even Stefanson if Manitoba is prepared for a major monkeypox outbreak and why this province does not have enough vaccine for a broader prevention effort.

Unfortunately, Gordon refused to answer questions about the virus before a news conference he attended on Friday. And, as happened the day before, no public health officials were available for interviews.

In the absence of unequivocal guarantees, Manitoba has the monkeypox situation under control, so we can conclude that this is probably not the case. And those who jump to that conclusion have plenty of prior experience to draw on.

A chronic theme of this province’s pandemic response was the insistence of political leaders and public health officials on waiting until COVID-19 case counts reached crisis levels before invoking social and economic restrictions. In doing so, Manitoba produced some of the worst results of any jurisdiction in North America.

In the absence of unequivocal guarantees, Manitoba has the monkeypox situation under control, so we can conclude that this is probably not the case.

The good news is that while monkeypox is infectious, a vaccine already exists. And the additional good news is that epidemiologists believe it can be contained with the strategic deployment of sufficient quantities of vaccine. But only if we act now to protect those most at risk.

Stefanson must know that most Manitobans are not happy with their government’s response to COVID-19. And on that basis alone, he should be going the extra mile now to not only manage a more preemptive response, but also to be seen as acting more urgently.

What you shouldn’t be doing is adopting a strategy of deathly silence at a time when Manitobans need to hear your voice.

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

dan lett

dan lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year after finishing journalism school with a lifelong dream of being a newspaper reporter.

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