TALLAHASSEE — Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo is accusing the federal government of meddling in Florida’s monoclonal antibody treatment program.
In a Tuesday letter to Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Ladapo said the federal government is “actively preventing the effective distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments in the U.S.” Ladapo went on to say that the government had suspended “multiple monoclonal antibody therapy treatments from distribution in Florida.”
It’s the second time in three months that Florida officials have publicly disparaged federal officials over monoclonal treatments. In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis predicted a change in federal monoclonal policy would result in a “huge disruption” for patients. That never materialized.
This latest dispute stems from when the federal government in late November temporarily paused shipments of GlaxoSmithKline’s Sotrovimab antibody treatment to states while it assessed the drug’s effectiveness against the omicron variant of COVID-19.
The pause on Sotrovimab shipments lasted about three weeks. By Dec. 17, the federal government had resumed its shipments, distributing 1,050 doses to Florida, according to federal data. On Dec. 27 — the day before Ladapo sent his letter — Florida got another 2,580.
Federal data shows that Florida hospitals also have nearly 10,000 doses of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment on hand, and about 4,000 doses of Eli Lilly’s treatment. However, those therapies have not proven to be effective against the omicron variant of the virus, leaving an overwhelming demand for GlaxoSmithKline’s Sotrovimab treatment in Florida and across the country.
“The lack of allocation of this life-saving treatment from the federal government continues to cause another immediate and life-threatening shortage of treatment options to the State of Florida as the Omicron variant spreads throughout the state,” Ladapo wrote in his letter.
Pushing COVID-19 treatments, including monoclonal antibodies, has been the centerpiece of DeSantis’ pandemic response since the summer surge. He and Ladapo have done far less to emphasize the importance of vaccination in their public messaging during that time.
In a Dec. 22 briefing, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said another 300,000 doses of Sotrovimab would be available to states in January. The federal government is also planning to send states about 3.3 million combined doses of the antiviral pills from Merck and Pfizer by the end of that month.
“As we face omicron, the nation’s medicine cabinet of treatments gives us more options to protect the American people,” Zients said. “It’s yet another reason this moment is much different than March 2020.”
Early studies suggests the new variant is milder than the delta strain that ravaged Florida in the late summer. Hospital capacity is not yet nearly as strained as it was during that surge.
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Still, it’s unclear whether the federal treatment efforts will be enough to satisfy demand with the fast-spreading omicron variant causing record case levels in Florida. The federal government reported nearly 700 additional confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida on Wednesday.
For its part, the state has set aside some $634 million in federal money for additional monoclonal antibody treatment sites, should they be needed. DeSantis has sworn off other COVID-19 mitigation measures such as mask and vaccine mandates.
Ladapo’s letter, which was first reported by WFLA, is the second public skirmish between the federal government and the state over monoclonal antibodies.
In September, the Biden administration changed the way millions of federally owned doses of the treatments are shipped to the 50 states. Instead of states and private entities like hospitals ordering the doses from a third party distributor, orders are now routed through the federal government. That change, which resulted in Florida gaining access to thousands fewer doses than it requested in September, was done to ensure all states had equal access to the treatment, Biden administration officials said at the time.
DeSantis warned then that the move would result in shortages of the monoclonal therapies. He ordered the state to spend $6.3 million in federal money on 2,100 Sotrovimab treatments — which were not yet known to be effective against omicron — in anticipation of those shortages.
But the shortages never came. Federal data has shown for months that Florida hospitals have tens of thousands of doses of monoclonal antibodies on hand.
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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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