Florida, feds tussle over monoclonal supply

The Biden administration announced this week that it is handing control of the monoclonal antibody supply chain to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead of letting individual sites order the supply needed.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted the move at a press conference in Broward County, saying the sudden switch will cause disruptions.

“We are very very concerned with the Biden administration and 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.

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Politico reported that Florida requested 36,000 doses this week and only received 30,000. DeSantis said Florida will see a 50 percent reduction in its supply, even though the administration promised to increase overall shipments.

It’s unclear how the reduction may affect the High Springs monoclonal treatment site, one of 25 the state has established since early August. The distribution change will not affect the supply to local hospitals, including UF Health Shands and North Florida Regional Medical Center, which continue to offer the treatments.

According to HHS, seven states have accounted for more than 70 percent of the monoclonal antibody supply―Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.

“HHS will determine the amount of product each state and territory receives on a weekly basis,” an HHS spokesperson said. “State and territorial health departments will subsequently identify sites that will receive product and how much.”

Currently, the sites send their own requests to the manufacturing companies for more supplies, skipping the middleman.

“There’s going to be a huge disruption,” DeSantis said, emphasizing that the state will now need to figure out how to supply both hospitals and state sites with little warning.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, criticized the Biden administration for what he said was thinly veiled partisanship.

“Antibody treatments aren’t a substitute for vaccines, but they have prevented thousands of hospitalizations including in breakthrough cases,” Rubio tweeted. “Now in a move that reeks of partisan payback against states like Florida, the Biden administration is rationing these treatments.”

But Republicans were not the only ones asking the Biden administration to reconsider. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, penned a Friday letter to the president requesting more time for the state to lower its COVID-19 case numbers before the changes take place.

“I am concerned that more residents may need to avail themselves of this therapy than doses will be available,” she wrote, while also criticizing DeSantis for his handling of the pandemic.  

DeSantis has championed the use of monoclonal antibody treatments—which were granted emergency use authorization in May—as an underutilized tool in the fight against the pandemic.

“Part of the reason we’ve used a lot is because I have made it a priority in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “It had not been a priority at the federal government level for months and months and months.”

At the same time, the governor has fought other COVID-19 measures in place around Florida, including mandatory masks in schools and vaccines for City of Gainesville employees. State and federal courts have recently ruled in DeSantis’ favor on the mask issue.

More than 40,000 Floridians had received the monoclonal treatment at state sites as of Sept. 1, and the High Springs site averaged around 130 patients per day in its first week

At Thursday’s press conference, DeSantis said southern states underwent a surge during the summer and needed more of the treatments, but that need has waned. As other states see higher cases, he supports shifting treatments to those areas.

HHS reports sending 2.17 million monoclonal antibody treatments since December. Of those, about 938,000 have been administered.

The Biden administration ordered 1.4 million doses this week from Regeneron, which says a single dose costs $2,100.

Eli Lilly announced on Wednesday that the federal government had purchased 388,000 doses of its COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment. It said the purchase will net $330 million in revenue for the company in the second half of 2021.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

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