Tampa General CEO slams Biden administration over coronavirus treatments

“This change is going to hurt people in Florida,” Tampa General CEO John Couris said Monday.
Tampa General President and CEO John Couris speaks while Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during an August news conference at Tampa General Hospital and USF Health Morsani College of Medicine's Global Emerging Diseases Institute.
Tampa General President and CEO John Couris speaks while Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during an August news conference at Tampa General Hospital and USF Health Morsani College of Medicine's Global Emerging Diseases Institute. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sept. 20, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Tampa General CEO John Couris said he’s not happy with the decision by President Joe Biden’s administration to ship Florida fewer doses of monoclonal antibody treatments than the state has requested.

During a meeting with Florida lawmakers on Monday, Couris, one of Tampa Bay’s most prominent hospital executives, called the move “plain wrong.”

“I don’t know why they did it, because the supply chain was working perfectly the way it was,” Couris said before the Florida House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee. “This change is going to hurt people in Florida. It’s already starting to make us, for example, think about how we are going to have to limit the hours of operations associated with our ability to provide this life saving therapy.”

The hospital executive’s warning over access to monoclonal antibody treatments echoes Gov. Ron DeSantis. Last week, DeSantis criticized the federal government for limiting the distribution of the treatment to Florida. DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in a statement that the state could be short as many as 41,000 doses per week because of the change.

She said that shortfall is based on an anticipated weekly demand of 72,000 doses: about 36,000 doses per week at state-run sites, and 36,000 per week at hospitals and clinics. Pushaw said in total, 25 state-run sites have given out more than 100,000 doses of the medicine since August — the vast majority of those doses coming in recent weeks.

“It’s our hope that we won’t need those 72,000 doses,” Pushaw said. “That number came from where we were in the past couple of weeks.”

As of Monday, according to federal data, state hospitals had about 11,500 doses of Regeneron’s treatment on hand. Those same facilities used about 3,000 doses last week.

The federal government is in charge of distributing doses of monoclonal antibody therapies to states because it owns much of the supply: the federal government has bought about 3 million doses of Regeneron’s treatment during a span that includes the presidential administrations of Donald Trump and Biden.

Related: The Ron DeSantis-Regeneron connection, explained

The treatments have shown promise in preventing those already infected from becoming hospitalized with COVID-19. Although the medications have not been approved for regular use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that agency has given the drugs emergency use authorization.

For months, states had little resistance from the federal government when they asked for the antibody treatments.

But last week, the federal government noted that seven hard-hit southern states, including Florida, are accounting for 70 percent of weekly monoclonal antibody shipments. In order to correct what federal officials characterize as an imbalance, states like Florida have been put on a leaner weekly diet of the treatments — even while Biden has pledged to increase the overall number of treatments available to states by 50 percent.

The federal government also changed the way private companies get their shipments. Instead of allowing facilities to negotiate directly with the distributor, all shipments will now go through the state Department of Health, Pushaw said. The governor’s spokesperson contended this is an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted that supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments are limited. Going forward, states will be given doses based on how many hospitalizations and cases they report to ensure adequate supply to the places most in need, the spokesperson said.

Florida has seen declining average daily case numbers and a drop in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks. DeSantis has said the drugs have likely contributed to the decrease in hospitalizations.

The governor started pushing monoclonal antibodies aggressively in early August, weeks after cases and hospitalizations in Florida started to spike. Since then, DeSantis has emphasized monoclonals over vaccines, masking or social distancing — other measures that have proven to mitigate the virus’ worst effects.

Florida Republicans expressed outrage over the Biden administration’s move. DeSantis said last week that the move was “a major curveball.” Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that Biden’s move “reeks of partisan payback against states like Florida.” U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster tweeted that he plans to reach out to the Biden administration to voice his concerns.

Mary Mayhew, a former top DeSantis administration health official who is now the CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said the Biden administration decision was “very abrupt.”

“It’s the predictability. Hospitals have been administering monoclonal antibody therapy since the moment it came out, and so they’ve created infrastructure based on determined need,” Mayhew said. “Anything that disrupts that obviously detracts from those goals.”