Gov. Ron DeSantis just gained an unlikely ally in trying to halt President Joe Biden’s push to stymie Florida’s flow of monoclonal antibody therapy doses: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running to unseat the Governor next year.
In a letter sent Friday to Biden, Fried asked him to postpone changing Florida’s allotment of the therapy treatment by biotech company Regeneron until after the state’s COVID-19 case counts drop further.
Floridians need more time to avail themselves of the post-infection treatment, she said, because they “have been victims of the DeSantis Administration’s pandemic mismanagement and misinformation.”
Florida’s COVID-19 case counts have declined in recent weeks as the latest — and deadliest — wave of the virus subsided. According to the Florida Department of Health, whose lack of transparency on pandemic data is the subject of a growing lawsuit, the vaccination rate among state residents 12 and older is now 70%.
Still, more than 9,500 Floridians remain hospitalized, including some 2,400 in near-capacity intensive care units. And according to Friday figures from the Florida Department of Health, 51,240 people in the state have died from the virus.
“This dubious distinction would have perhaps been mitigable had our Governor listened to science and scientists, made priorities of vaccines, mask-wearing, and data transparency, and focused on fighting this virus instead of our residents,” Fried wrote. “Yet Florida lags behind twenty other states in fully-vaccinated residents, and an estimated 92 percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated — all while dangerous disinformation on vaccine and mask effectiveness is spread by the Governor’s office.”
Fried thanked Biden for his leadership during the recent “precipitous rise of COVID-19” and for making vaccination “a moral imperative and patriotic duty that will help our country fight and win against this pandemic.”
But for those who haven’t gotten the shot (and those who have but suffer severe symptoms), she wrote, monoclonal antibody treatments — for which Florida leads the nation, thanks to a blitz by the DeSantis administration to open Regeneron centers across the state — have been shown to reduce symptoms and hospitalizations.
“While monoclonal antibody therapy has been emergency-use authorized for nearly a year, frustratingly little was done by the DeSantis Administration to promote its use until last month — well into our state’s worst-ever COVID-19 wave,” she wrote. “While federal health officials have set Florida’s allocation of treatment doses at 30,950, I am concerned that more residents may need to avail themselves of this therapy than doses will be available, given our state’s long delay in implementing this therapy.”
She continued: “While we certainly understand the frustration at the inequitable distribution of this treatment to just a handful of states, I would respectfully ask that time be extended before altering our current dose allotment, giving our state time to further reduce COVID-19 cases from their recent peaks.”
Fried tied messaging from DeSantis’ office about the virus and potential treatments to that coming from right-wing media outlets, blaming the Governor for doubts that COVID-19 could be contracted without consequence “and trading a fully FDA-approved, safe, and proven effective vaccine for an experimental emergency treatment.”
DeSantis has encouraged the public to get vaccinated and said the shots “are saving lives,” but such statements have grown rarer in recent months, during which he has battled school districts across the state to stop them from enforcing mask rules.
Along similar lines, the Governor has said he will fine local governments $5,000 for each employee who is required to be vaccinated, and has fought to prevent cruise companies from barring unvaccinated patrons.
In early May, he signed an executive order banning so-called “vaccine passports” statewide.
“In this misleading environment, our citizens have even turned to drugs like ivermectin, promoted by physicians advising the Governor, but primarily used for livestock de-worming,” Fried wrote. “Because of this misinformation, too many of our people are continuing to get sick and die, every day. As a statewide elected official, it’s my obligation to protect the lives of every Floridian in every corner of our state — regardless of party or ideology.
“As we do everything we can to reduce illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19, ensuring the continued availability of this therapy will help us fulfill this obligation.”