TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is urging the federal government to send between 30,000 and 40,000 more doses of monoclonal antibody treatments to Florida per week.
The call from Florida’s top elected official comes as daily COVID-19 cases climb to record highs. It also comes amid renewed tension between state and federal officials over the monoclonal treatments, which are given to vulnerable patients after exposure to COVID-19.
“We have the ability, and we will immediately turn on additional sites as soon as the federal government gives us the supply,” DeSantis said Monday at a news conference in Fort Lauderdale.
The governor said his administration would set up additional state-run monoclonal antibody sites in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and a site in central Florida if the state gets enough doses from the federal government.
Federal data shows that the state’s hospitals have more than 12,000 doses of Regeneron and Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody treatments on hand.
However, some patients have complained in recent days that the state-run sites — which have additional doses and offer the treatments for free — are not able to meet patient demand. (The federal government, which has bought millions of doses of monoclonal antibodies, supplies hospitals and Florida’s treatment sites via regular shipments to the state.)
Ann St. George, 68, of Bradenton, said she spent the bulk of last week searching for a treatment for her case of COVID-19. Although she’s gotten two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, she said she is a high-risk patient because she’s asthmatic and fighting a case of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
After four days of trying in vain to book an appointment on the state’s monoclonal antibody treatment center portal, St. George said she was ready to give up.
“I started to stress more and more. By Saturday morning, I had a meltdown,” St. George said. “My son called, and I just started crying. I said, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want to go on a ventilator. I know that will be it for me if I do.’ ”
On Sunday, she tried the state website one final time. To her astonishment, she was able to book an appointment at the monoclonal antibody treatment center at Englewood’s Tringali Community Center. She got a course of Regeneron’s treatment that same day.
St. George said she’s still worried about her lungs, and said she feels the state and federal government need to work out a better system to offer care to high-risk COVID patients. But for now, she’s relieved to have gotten the treatment.
In a letter last week, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo blamed what he described as the state’s shortage of monoclonal antibodies on the federal government, saying that the Biden administration had suspended various therapies from being distributed in Florida.
The federal government did announce a temporary pause on shipments of the Regeneron and Eli Lilly products on Dec. 23, noting clinical evidence that the treatments would be ineffective against the omicron variant of COVID-19.
However, it’s unclear whether shipments to Florida were ever paused. On Dec. 27, the federal government sent Florida some 14,000 doses of monoclonal antibodies, including the products made by Regeneron, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline.
On Dec. 29, the Biden administration said it would only stop shipments of Regeneron and Eli Lilly products to states where the omicron variant was responsible for the overwhelming majority of cases. As of that time, Florida was not one of those states. By Dec. 31, the Biden administration said it would resume sending Regeneron and Eli Lilly’s treatments to all states as they would have previously.
At the governor’s news conference, Ladapo said the Biden administration had arrived at the correct decision.
“There’s a difference between laboratory data and clinical data,” Ladapo said. “They made the decision to withhold the medication based on laboratory data, but we care about clinical outcomes.”
The surgeon general also noted he’s working on ways to decrease the rush for testing every time there’s a COVID-19 surge. The solution isn’t to increase testing, he said, but to emphasize testing that “is likely to change outcomes.”
For example, elderly or vulnerable Floridians should focus on getting tested far more than those unlikely to suffer clinical consequences, Ladapo said. DeSantis noted that Ladapo will release updated guidance on testing in the coming days.
The governor also said Florida may issue updated guidance on when to seek monoclonal antibody treatments, given the promising early data indicating omicron may not be as virulent as past strains.
“Let’s look at our elderly population. Let’s look at folks that are immunocompromised,” DeSantis said.
A White House spokesperson said deemphasizing testing is the wrong approach, noting that President Joe Biden has ordered 500 million rapid tests to send to Americans for free.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the state had 33,500 doses of monoclonal antibody treatments on hand as of Dec. 31.
According to state data obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s state-run sites alone used some 29,000 doses of monoclonal antibodies during the busiest week of this summer’s COVID-19 surge.
If federal data is any indication, it’s unlikely that Florida will get the allocation of monoclonal antibodies DeSantis is calling for. New York, a state roughly of Florida’s size that is seeing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, got just about 22,000 doses of the treatments on Dec. 27.
How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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