If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were a responsible leader dedicated to the well-being of his constituents, he would have made clear that the Regeneron monoclonal antibody being administered at his five new treatment sites is all but useless in the current COVID-19 surge.
But DeSantis is DeSantis, and therefore his own top priority. He is happy to offer false hope in the middle of a pandemic—as his state breaks infection records week after week—if he believes it is to his political advantage.
Last month, DeSantis held a press conference outside Ocala Medical Center with a sign reading “Early Treatment Saves Lives” and touted monoclonal antibodies as the answer to the COVID crisis. His surgeon general, Joe Ladapo, described vaccines, masks, and testing as a “trifecta” of “lunacy.”
Omicron had already begun to spread in Florida and elsewhere, so quickly that it was soon responsible for the overwhelming majority of new cases. The federal government stopped distributing two of the three mjaor monoclonal antibody treatments—Regeneron and bamlanivimab—on the grounds they were ineffective against the new variants. The third treatment, sotrovimab, remains in such short supply it is reserved for only the most vulnerable people.
DeSantis accused the Biden administration of falling victim to “hysteria.” Lapado made public a letter he wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra saying, “The federal government is is actively preventing the effective distribution of antibody treatments in the U.S.” Never mind that it was because the treatments themselves are ineffective.
On Jan. 3, DeSantis tweeted a video of himself standing with the “Early Treatment Saves Lives” sign outside at Broward Health.
“Instead of keeping a stranglehold on monoclonal antibodies, the federal government must release its stockpiles to states who want them and allow states to purchase these medications directly,” he said.
On Jan. 4, he posted a video of himself with the well-traveled sign in Jacksonville.
“Governor DeSantis is in Jacksonville ready to open a monoclonal antibody treatment site IF the federal government would provide the supply Florida needs,” he declared.
On Jan. 5, he insisted, “With Omicron, there’s not enough evidence to say that Regeneron and the bamlanivimab work. There’s not enough evidence to say if it’s going to be as effective or more against Delta, we just don’t know.”
In fact, there was already considerable evidence to the contrary. Prominent medical experts were reaching a consensus that Regeneron and bamlanivimab do not work against Omicron.
“It’s equivalent to giving them a placebo,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of Infectious Disease at University of Alabama Medicine, told the Daily Beast. “We just assume there’s not going to be any benefit to using them.”
But on Jan. 7, the Biden administration caved. DeSantis reported that Florida had secured 15,000 doses of Regeneron. He announced that they would be distributed at five new sites.
“Free Monoclonal Antibody Treatment,” signs outside read.
By all reports, there was a big turnout. A registered nurse at the Lake Worth location told a TV reporter, “We can slow down the transmission of the virus from getting into the cells if you do it sooner.”
If it was the Delta variant, sure. But with Omicron this was just the waste of a nurse when there is a critical shortage of them in hospitals statewide. That gives rise to the issue of squandering precious resources while the health care system nationwide is overused and exhausted.
“To me, it’s diversion at best,” Marrazzo said.
Another important question is whether the people who arrive are being given false hope to further the illusion that DeSantis is addressing the pandemic in a way that is acceptable to his anti-vax, anti-mask base.
DeSantis himself may hope the monoclonal sham will help people forget that he allowed a million at-home kits to expire while people were waiting hours in line to get tested. He initially denied that such a stockpile existed and was joined by Ladapo in scoffing at people who clamored to get tested.
When the truth came out, DeSantis and Ladapo suddenly began talking about getting the tests to people in nursing homes. And of course he continued his mantra of monoclonal, monoclonal, monoclonal.
One research scientist, Tom Hladish of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, suggested to The Daily Beast that reliance on monoclonal antibodies would be poor public health policy even if they work against Omicron.
One shortcoming is what he termed “a volume problem.”
“It’s not like you can get a jab in the shoulder and five minutes later they’ll be doing the next one,” he said.
Another hitch is that monoclonal antibodies do considerably less than vaccines to reduce the spread.
“When people are receiving monoclonal antibodies, they’re already symptomatic,” he noted. “And so they’ve already done most of their transmitting.”
He said the resulting reduction in the spread of the virus is only linear, whereas with vaccines it is exponential.
“The vast majority of epidemiologists feel that the best intervention we have right now is vaccines,” he said. “And it’s because vaccines, even against Omicron… they still likely reduce transmission somewhat. They make it somewhat less likely that you’ll get infected. You tend to be infected for a shorter period of time. And so you still see a greater than linear benefit as you vaccinate more and more people.”
A leader such as the people of Florida deserve would tell anybody who shows up at those five new sites to go get vaccinated. And, as even former President Trump is saying, to be sure to get the booster.
DeSantis will still not say whether or not he got the booster. But the greater shame is his failure to tell the truth about the five new placebo centers.
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