Gov. Ron DeSantis is continuing to criticize the federal government for “playing games” with the state’s monoclonal antibody therapy supply, but Democrats say the drug is a waste of resources.
Florida opened additional monoclonal antibody treatment sites Tuesday after receiving shipments of the drug that had previously proven effective against treating COVID-19. But health officials say the versions created by Regeneron and Eli Lilly aren’t as effective against the omicron variant, leading the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to pause shipments late last year.
HHS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration again halted shipments Monday, citing that the two treatments are ineffective against the omicron variant.
HHS had also previously rationed the drug’s supply, drawing criticism from DeSantis. Speaking in Jacksonville Monday, the Governor said the federal government had been messing with the monoclonal antibody supply for months.
“They’ve always been playing games on this,” DeSantis told reporters.
In Florida, most COVID-19 cases are omicron cases. New cases have been on the decline in Florida since the start of the new year.
Officials confirmed 215,563 new cases in the seven-day period leading up to Friday, the most recent day with available COVID-19 data. That was down from 379,683 cases reported during the seven days prior. In total, there have been 5.3 million COVID-19 cases in Florida throughout the pandemic.
The omicron variant has appeared to withstand Regeneron’s casirivimab and imdevimab combo and Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab and etesevimab combo, according to the Health Alert Network and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). DeSantis disagrees.
“We don’t think it’s been proven,” DeSantis said. “We think there’s indications that it’s not as effective as it was against delta. We’ve also had other people that have gone and have had their symptoms resolved.”
Florida House Minority Leader Evan Jenne compared DeSantis’ focus on monoclonal antibody therapies to the state’s prior focus on hydroxychloroquine, which DeSantis promoted as an effective treatment in 2020. Hydroxychloroquine proved to be “snake oil,” the Dania Beach Democrat told reporters earlier Monday as he bashed the Governor’s belief in the treatment.
“It’s an unfortunate waste of taxpayer monies, but at the same time, we do want everybody to have treatments that will work,” Jenne said. “It’s just that this doesn’t work.”
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat and the House Democrats’ Policy Chair, similarly called monoclonal antibody expenditures unnecessary because she said the treatment is ineffective.
“Sometimes information changes from day to day in a public health emergency,” Driskell said. “That’s the nature of an emergency.”
Driskell said DeSantis’ push for the treatment has caused concern for her and fellow Democrats.
“It allowed people to be riskier and to not want to wear masks in places where maybe they should if they couldn’t socially distance, or maybe want to be a little more flagrant in the face of CDC guidance and guidelines in terms of what it would require to stay safe,” Driskell said.
“Now you have folks who are probably very surprised,” Driskell continued. “I imagine that there are many Floridians who are going to these clinics, expecting that they could get this treatment and expecting it to work when, in reality, we should be pushing a complete narrative in this state that prevention matters as well.”
Following news that the federal government was again halting the two monoclonal antibody treatments, Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Kenneth Scheppke wrote a letter complaining to HHS, telling them that coordinating treatment requires continued planning and focus.
“Patients and health care practitioners deserve to make the best treatment choices regarding individual cases,” Scheppke said. “Sweeping decisions at the federal level are continuing to be made based on rapidly evolving science and continues to limit treatment options. This interferes directly with health care practitioners’ ability to make the best decisions for their patients.”