On September 3, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decided to restrict the distribution of monoclonal antibodies (the only approved outpatient COVID-19 treatment) and process all orders for them centrally. At the time, I questioned the administrative burden as well as the motivation. If you believe White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, HHS will ensure “equitable” distribution. In practice, it appears equity means limiting supply to red states.
The equitable distribution of medical treatment ensures that people who need it have access to it. Using that logic, the states with the highest number of new cases would receive the treatment in sufficient amounts. Already, representatives from Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida have indicated a reduction to their state’s supply.
Unfortunately for President Biden, COVID-19 is not just affecting his ideological opponents. Republicans and Democrats get COVID-19. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people are experiencing symptomatic COVID-19. Restricting the supply of monoclonal antibodies in states run by Republican governors who choose not to issue mandates and restrictions to control the virus will touch Americans of all walks of life. He is handing these governors the opportunity to lead and provide relief to all the citizens of their states.
In Florida, the average demand for the treatment is 72,000 doses per week. HHS allocated the state 30,950 doses for the week of September 14, leaving a projected deficit of 41,050. According to Governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, the state’s monoclonal antibody infusion centers have disconnected illness and hospitalizations.
- 25 state-run monoclonal treatment sites
- Over 90,000 treatments provided so far at the state sites. Hospitals and independent clinics provide additional treatments.
- 50% decrease in hospital admissions since the peak
- 24 consecutive days decline in hospital census
- The lowest number of “COVID-like illness” visits to hospital emergency rooms in almost two months
So who will Biden’s HHS be hurting in Florida? DeSantis, who shared data from the state-run centers at a press conference yesterday, has the answer: It will hurt many people over 60 in deep-blue counties who are fully vaccinated.
“At our Broward site, 52% of the patients that have received treatment have been vaccinated, 69% of those over 60 that have received treatment at the Broward site had been vaccinated,” DeSantis said.
He added, “In Miami Dade, almost 60% of everybody that’s been treated at the Tropical Park site has been vaccinated. And 73% of the patients treated at the state site in Tropical Park that are over the age of 60 have been vaccinated. I think that the message is you do need to have treatment as an important component when you’re dealing with COVID.”
To maintain the level of service to Floridians who need monoclonal antibodies, DeSantis announced a plan to go around HHS. In Biden’s speech on his COVID-19 plan, he committed to increasing the supply of monoclonal antibodies by 50%. A week later, the HHS cut Florida’s supply by at least 50%. Hospitals and clinics ordered their own directly before centralized distribution and now depend on what HHS allocates to the state.
“I had a call yesterday with GlaxoSmithKline executives about their new monoclonal antibody. So how do you pronounce it? So Trove a MAB [sotrovimab],” he announced. Later in the speech, DeSantis noted, “The clinical data on that [sotrovimab] was even better than the clinical data on the Regeneron, 85% reduction in hospitalizations.” GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) does not have a purchase agreement with the federal government, potentially allowing states and healthcare facilities to order directly from the manufacturer. HHS has purchased all the available Regeneron.
The situation is either a massive failure in appropriate planning for COVID-19 treatment by the Biden administration or terrible political calculus. The news on waning vaccine efficacy and increasing hospitalizations, even among the vaccinated, came out of Israel and the United Kingdom weeks ahead of Delta raging in the United States. And I am old enough to remember President Trump pulling out all the stops to send Naval hospital ships, the Army Corps of Engineers, and ventilators to New York and California early in the pandemic.
An ad with Governor Newsom and Governor Cuomo saying the Trump administration got them what they needed early in the pandemic juxtaposed with DeSantis’s announcement that the Biden administration is restricting needed treatment for Florida would be epic. The other shipment-restricted states are already starting to follow DeSantis’s lead. Allowing your political opposition to lead is never a good strategy.