Gov. Ron DeSantis made stops in Lakeland and Bradenton Saturday to promote two new sites that will provide monoclonal antibodies, touted as an effective treatment against COVID-19.
DeSantis visited the sites, one at Manatee Memorial Hospital Complex and another at Lakes Church, as part of a series of recent visits around the state to raise public awareness of monoclonal antibodies, a therapeutic available when a person at high risk for severe infection tests positive for COVID-19 or is exposed to the virus.
The Governor presented the treatment as just “one tool” to fight against severe complications from COVID-19, also pointing to vaccinations as a form of prevention for serious illness.
“This is just one tool, it’s not to the exclusion of anything else,” DeSantis said Saturday. “The fact that this is here should not mean that you don’t get vaccinated, and the fact that you’re vaccinated does not mean that you may not get infected.”
The state plans to open between 15 to 20 sites providing about 320 treatments a day by start of next week, DeSantis said. The monoclonal antibody centers are being placed across the state, and provide the treatment free of charge.
The sites are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s been given the same emergency use authorization that the three vaccines have had, and its been used by our health systems in most parts of the state pretty consistently,” DeSantis said. “However, it’s something that a lot of people didn’t know about, and so we’ve really helped raise the visibility of it.”
The promotion of the treatment sites comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.
For several weeks now, Florida has led the nation in new COVID-19 cases, and those numbers have continued to climb. On Wednesday, the Florida Hospitalization Association reported a new high in active hospitalizations for COVID-19 with 16,721 people hospitalized in the state.
Treating people early can help keep them out of hospitals, which are filling up again as the delta variant resurges across the country.
“We’ve already done thousands of treatments at our various sites,” DeSantis said. “At the pace we’re going, we’re going to do a lot in the coming weeks and again, keeping people out of hospitals, reducing admissions to hospitals — that really is, I think the key, of course, saving lives as well.”
Lakeland Sen. Kelli Stargel joined DeSantis at the Lakes Church treatment site opening, sharing that she had received a call from Lakeland Regional Hospital stressed about the number of hospitalizations from the virus.
“I guarantee you it’s going to take the stress off of our healthcare system, we’re gonna be able to get back to business,” Stargel said Saturday, adding, “If we all do our part and try to be compassionate and considerate to those around us — wear a mask if you’ve been someplace or you are someplace where you make another sick. It takes all of it.”
DeSantis also emphasized the state has been able to scale up the program at some sites, like one in Broward County, where the demand calls for it.
The Trump administration bought Regeneron’s entire supply of their monoclonal antibody drug in January, making it free to those who take it. Former President Donald Trump received monoclonal antibodies in October when he was treated for COVID-19, promoting it as a “miracle” and a “cure.”
In the past month, critics have argued that DeSantis has promoted treatment over vaccines by touting the drug cocktail. But he said it’s not a question of treatment versus vaccines but that both are important, particularly as there are more breakthrough cases. He spent much of the first half of the year crisscrossing the state to promote vaccines.
DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, attacked The Associated Press Tuesday evening for publishing a story highlighting that the CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund with Regeneron shares, has donated $10.75 million to the DeSantis campaign since 2018.
Citadel’s investment in Regeneron is a tiny fraction of its overall $39 billion in investments, but Citadel would benefit if the stock price increased. Pushaw noted that Citadel has far greater investments in Moderna and Pfizer, which manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. And Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times reported that it doesn’t benefit Regeneron for the Governor to promote it.
But the relationship has generated a buzz on social media, as Democrats question the relationship.
Some critics have also started promoting the treatment. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who earlier this week said DeSantis cost the state by promoting treatment rather than prevention, helped open a Regeneron drug treatment center.