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First Coast

Antibody treatment centers shut down. Now what?

DeSantis regeneron.jpg
Marta Lavandier
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines on Aug. 18, 2021.

The federal government has pulled the plug on two ineffective treatments for COVID-19, prompting outrage by Gov. Ron DeSantis and yet more confusion among the public.

In a statement late Monday, DeSantis demanded that the Biden administration "reverse its sudden and reckless decision" to withdraw authorization for monoclonal antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly.

But many doctors on Tuesday supported the government's move and had this advice for patients:

  • Get vaccinated, including a booster.
  • Talk to your physician about other treatment options. Another monoclonal antibody, sotrovimab, is still available, although the supply is low. Pfizer and Merck also are developing promising antiviral pills.

Dr. Fred Southwick, infectious disease specialist at USF Health, and Dr. Nancy Staats of Doctors fighting COVID appeared on WJCT's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross to take issue with DeSantis and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who will have his first confirmation hearing before the Florida Senate this week.

"Quite frankly, it's embarrassing that they're continuing to push a drug that doesn't work," Southwick said.

He said the Pfizer pill appears to be the best option for people with medical complications who cannot be vaccinated.

"My understanding is they're starting in the state of Florida to distribute that drug," he said. "I think you take three pills twice a day for five days, and it has reduced hospitalizations by 89 to 90%. So it's a very effective drug. The problem is, it's very complicated to manufacture and takes time, and therefore we have a limited supply."

The Food and Drug Administration deauthorized the two antibody treatments because, although they worked against earlier coronavirus variants, research shows they are ineffective against omicron, which now causes the vast majority of cases in the U.S.

DeSantis remains unconvinced. He has banked on the antibody treatments while vehemently opposing vaccine mandates. In his statement Monday, he blamed the Biden administration for acting "without a shred of clinical data." The state was forced to cancel antibody treatments for more than 2,000 Floridians on Tuesday alone, he said.

“It’s really a reckless decision to be able to take this option away from patients when we’ve had the sites set up, we’ve had this distributed to different medical groups or hospitals,” DeSantis added Tuesday. “So we’re gonna fight back against this because this is just wrong. This is not the way, you know, that you help people.”

Drs. Staats and Southwick disagree. On First Coast Connect, they accused DeSantis and Ladapo of ignoring science to further political positions.

"I'll be honest, I'm very frustrated by what seems to be a lot of political theater," Southwick said.

Of Ladapo, Staats said: "Of course, politics, you know, exists and we have to to work with that. This person is way beyond politics. In my view, this is now entering into really a dangerous area."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also addressed DeSantis’ comments during her daily news conference on Tuesday.

"Well, let's just take a step back here just to realize how crazy this is," Psaki said. "These treatments — the ones that they are fighting over, that the governor's fighting over — do not work against omicron, and they have side effects. That is what the scientists are saying.

“We know what works: vaccines and boosters. We have a range of doses of things that do work in treatments, and we are providing those to Florida.”