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DeSantis pledges to ‘fight like hell’ over COVID-19 treatment

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that the federal government’s distribution plan for monoclonal antibodies is aimed at achieving “equity” among states receiving them.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Sep. 17
Updated Sep. 18

TALLAHASSEE — While Florida looks to round the corner on administering 100,000 monoclonal antibody treatments to people with COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged this week to “fight like hell” to continue receiving the treatments as the federal government took control over distribution of the drugs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday reported on its website that the agency has “transitioned from a direct ordering process to a state/territory-coordinated distribution system,” saying that the change will give “health departments maximum flexibility to get these critical drugs where they are needed most.”

A handful of states, including Florida, have obtained the bulk of the treatments available thus far, according to White House officials.

But the federal health agency now is allocating a weekly distribution “based on weekly reports of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in addition to data on inventories and use” submitted by states to the federal government, Health and Human Services officials said.

Florida this week will be capped at receiving 27,850 doses of the monoclonal antibody treatment Regeneron and 3,100 doses of treatments developed by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, according to federal health officials.

Florida’s apportionment of treatments represents the largest share of any state, with Texas coming in second at 21,720 Regeneron doses and 2,370 doses of the Eli Lilly treatments this week.

But DeSantis, who regularly opposes President Joe Biden’s administration on COVID-19 mitigation strategies, said Thursday that the federal government is putting up “obstacles” to the state receiving the drugs, which the governor has touted as an effective early treatment to combat the virus.

“Just last week, on Sept. 9, President Joe Biden said that his administration would be increasing shipments of monoclonal antibodies in September by 50 percent. And yet, on Sept. 13, (Health and Human Services) announced that it was seizing control of the monoclonal antibody supply and that it would control distribution,” DeSantis told reporters during a news conference in Broward County Thursday.

Biden’s plan to combat COVID-19, dubbed the “Path Out of the Pandemic,” in part promises to “increase the average weekly pace of shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatment to states” by a further 50 percent in September.

Biden’s administration reported that it shipped about 100,000 doses of the treatments weekly in July and August. The weekly distribution numbers posted by Health and Human Services Monday said the federal government distributed 176,460 treatments to states this week.

But DeSantis told reporters Thursday that the White House’s plan to assume a role as distributor for monoclonal antibody treatments will result in fewer therapeutics coming to the state.

“We’re facing a massive, massive cut in monoclonal antibody treatments abruptly. Just after the president said they would have a 50 percent increase, we’re now seeing more than a 50 percent cut for the state of Florida. So we’re going to fight like hell to make sure that our folks get what they need,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis indicated that the battle to continue receiving treatments could include purchasing directly from drug company GlaxoSmithKline, which currently has a monoclonal antibody treatment that received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. DeSantis held a call with GlaxoSmithKline leaders on Wednesday.

“They (GlaxoSmithKline) do not have a direct purchase agreement with the federal government. The federal government has bought all the Regeneron,” DeSantis said. “We are not able to buy (Regeneron) directly, given that.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that the federal government’s distribution plan for monoclonal antibodies is aimed at achieving “equity” among states receiving them.

“Just seven states are making up 70 percent of the orders. Our supply is not unlimited and we believe it should be equitable across states,” Psaki said during a press briefing. “I think our role as the government overseeing the entire country is to be equitable in how we distribute. We’re not going to give a greater percentage to Florida over Oklahoma.”

Biden said Thursday that his administration is “facing a lot of pushback,” especially from Republican governors — including DeSantis — who have balked at mandates such as vaccination requirements for some private and government workers.

“The governors of Florida and Texas are doing everything they can to undermine the life-saving requirements that I proposed,” he told reporters.

By Ryan Dailey