NYC infection control specialist claims ‘retaliation’ in monkeypox dispute

NYC infection control specialist claims ‘retaliation’ in monkeypox dispute

A veteran top infection control specialist at the city Health Department claimed he was reassigned in “retaliation” after having a dispute with brass over monkeypox messaging.

Dr. Don Weiss, director of surveillance, was transferred to another unit after publicly criticizing the department’s advice to gay men about reducing the transmission of monkeypox.

He repeated his barbs in a July 18 letter to Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan, which he posted on his website.

The reassignment was first reported by Gothamist.com.

Weiss accused the department of offering misleading information by suggesting that having sex while infected with monkeypox could be made safer if people avoided kissing and covered their sores.

He argued that abstaining or reducing sex for a period of time was the best way to limit the spread of monkeypox.

“Monkeypox in NYC is a sexually transmitted infection. Not communicating this clearly and often is a public health failure,” Weiss said in the letter to Vasan.

“DOHMH continues to emphasize skin-to-skin contact as the major risk and have now dangerously suggested that sex is not a risk, as long as you don’t kiss and cover your sores. This is completely contrary to the evidence.”

Weiss addressed his concerns in a letter to city Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan.
ZUMAPRESS.com

He said that department leadership “is more concerned with stigma avoidance” for gay men rather than “giving people the risk information they need to protect themselves and others. People are suffering.”

Four days later, Weiss received a letter from Sean McFarlane, assistant commissioner who oversees personnel and labor relations, notifying him that he had been reassigned to the division of family and child health effective Monday and that his new title was “infant and reproductive health medical specialist.” The letter is posted on his website.

McFarlane said Weiss’ salary would remain unchanged, according to the letter.

Weiss also posted an audio recording of a conversation he had with a health department official who would not tell him who ordered his reassignment.

NY Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett
NY Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett declared monkeypox an imminent public health threat.
Gregory P. Mango

Noting that the reassignment came just days after publicly taking issue with department brass over monkeypox guidance, Weiss said, “You are aware under the whistleblower statute that you cannot do any retribution to me for my coming forward with information that I thought was necessary for the public to know?”

“This could be seen as retribution, especially the timing of it.”

He also asked if he could appeal the decision of his reassignment and was denied because it was a reorganization. 

The health department had no immediate comment.

But The World Health Organization director general, in new guidance issued Wednesday agreed with Weiss’ approach — saying men who have sex with men should limit the number of sexual partners they have to reduce their risk of contracting monkeypox.

Meanwhile, state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett Thursday declared monkeypox an imminent public health threat.

“Based on the ongoing spread of this virus, which has increased rapidly and affected primarily communities that identify as men who have sex with men, and the need for local jurisdictions to administer vaccines, I’ve declared monkeypox an Imminent Threat to Public Health throughout New York State,”  Bassett said.

“This declaration means that local health departments engaged in response and prevention activities will be able to access additional State reimbursement, after other Federal and State funding sources are maximized, to protect all New Yorkers and ultimately limit the spread of monkeypox in our communities.” 

It was revealed earlier Thursday that New York state will receive 110,000 new doses of the monkeypox vaccine — with 80,000 coming to the Big Apple alone — as the Biden administration finally released the stock of shots and is expected to declare the virus a public health emergency.

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told The Post that the new allocation is coming to New York from the pot of 786,000 monkeypox vaccines previously stuck in Denmark thanks to an FDA snafu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 4,639 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the US as of Wednesday, including 1,228 in New York state.

In New York City alone, 1,148 have been diagnosed, according to the data.

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