The Biden administration is cutting back the supply of monoclonal antibodies, a COVID-19 treatment featuring a lab-engineered protein, in several red states. There has been a backlash to the reduction of the potentially lifesaving treatment, especially in Florida, where monoclonal antibodies are being used the most.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Monday that the agency is taking over the distribution of monoclonal antibodies to states. Previously, the states ordered therapeutics from the federal government.
"HHS will determine the amount of product each state and territory receives on a weekly basis. State and territorial health departments will subsequently identify sites that will receive product and how much," an HHS spokesman told the Washington Post. "This system will help maintain equitable distribution, both geographically and temporally, across the country — providing states and territories with consistent, fairly-distributed supply over the coming weeks."
The policy shift will affect seven red states the most: Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, which have accounted for 70% of monoclonal antibodies orders, CNN reported.
"Given this reality, we must work to ensure our supply of these life-saving therapies remains available for all states and territories, not just some," an HHS spokesperson said.
Florida has received the most doses of monoclonal antibodies, followed by Texas. Florida received 30,950 doses this week, after the Sunshine State requested 72,000 doses, according to the governor's office. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis established 25 clinics that offer monoclonal antibody treatments; the first was opened on Aug. 12 in Jacksonville. The clinics have administered 90,000 monoclonal antibody doses, according to DeSantis.
DeSantis slammed President Joe Biden for the "abrupt" cut in monoclonal antibodies.
"We are very, very concerned with the Biden administration and the HHS's recent, abrupt, sudden announcement that they are going to dramatically cut the number of monoclonal antibodies that are going to be sent to the state of Florida," DeSantis said during a press conference on Thursday. "There's going to be a huge disruption and patients are going to suffer as a result of this."
"We've been thrown a major curveball here with a really huge cut," DeSantis added. "We're going to make sure we leave no stone unturned. Whoever needs a treatment, we're going to work like hell to get them the treatment."
"Many thousands would have ended up in the hospital, and of course, some of them would have ended up dying, so it has saved lives here in the state of Florida," DeSantis said of the monoclonal antibody treatment.
"The bottom line is this: COVID is a treatable illness. And we have to never go back to the days where particularly high-risk people get infected and were told to just go home and hope they don't get deathly ill," DeSantis declared.
Sen. Marco Rubio blasted the Biden administration for reducing Florida's supply of COVID-19 treatments.
"Antibody treatments aren't a substitute for vaccines But they have prevented thousands of hospitalizations including in breakthrough cases," Rubio wrote on Twitter. "Now in a move that reeks of partisan payback against states like Florida, the Biden administration is rationing these treatments."
"This reeks of politics. This is the Biden administration punishing Florida," Sen. Marco Rubio said in a video. "They're saying to states like Florida, 'Oh yeah, you're not gonna have mandates? You're not gonna do what we want you to do? Well then guess what, we're gonna cut off your antibody treatments and your access to them.'"
The Biden administration has made monoclonal antibody treatments a priority in its "Path out of the Pandemic" plan.
"Monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 70% for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease. As hospital systems experience increased COVID-19 cases, many have identified monoclonal antibody treatment as a key tool to improve health outcomes, prevent hospitalizations and reduce the strain on overburdened hospitals," the plan states.
DeSantis noted that 52% of COVID-19 patients who were treated at the Broward monoclonal antibody treatment site had already been vaccinated, and 69% of those treated at the site with monoclonal antibodies were over 65 years old and vaccinated.
With the supply of monoclonal antibodies being cut by more than half by the Biden administration, DeSantis said he would attempt to secure a new monoclonal antibody treatment from another pharmaceutical company – GlaxoSmithKline.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals announced on Tuesday that the U.S. government had purchased 1.4 million additional doses of its COVID-19 antibody cocktail, which brings the total bought to nearly 3 million doses. Regeneron will supply the upcoming doses between now and the end of January 2022. The monoclonal antibody treatment costs $2,100 per dose, according to Regeneron, which adds up to revenues of $2.9 billion.