Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Fort Myers on Wednesday morning about the impact of the 21 monoclonal antibody sites around the state, reporting that more than 40,000 residents had received the treatment so far.
In High Springs, cars raced past Fellowship Baptist Church on SR 441 as DeSantis spoke. Situated off the road and under a grove of large trees, the sprawling complex opened last week as Alachua County’s only state monoclonal antibody site.
Signs posted along the drive announced the site’s purpose, and lines of cars parked in the grass showed where to go. Patients walk up to personnel in full body protective gear to fill out the required forms.
Paul Myers, the Alachua County Health Department administrator, said the site is averaging 130 patients a day, but it has the capacity to handle 300.
Myers said while the data set is too small to prove direct correlation, the past week has brought some good changes.
“There is a clear decrease in the hospitalizations at the same time that this treatment stood up, so I know that our local hospitals are pleased with that,” Myers said in a phone interview with Mainstreet Daily News. “And I hope that this continues because it is a very effective treatment.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization for monoclonal antibody treatments in May. According to the FDA, the treatments are “laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses.”
The IV infusion lasts about an hour, from arrival to departure, and works most effectively early in the COVID-19 process.
“What I do hope is that people will continue to get vaccinated and not use this as a safety net to not get vaccinated and then just show up if they become ill,” Myers said.
Any county resident can sign up for an appointment online. The treatment is free, but patients with health insurance can also bill it.
Because it’s a state site, patients can forgo a physician’s recommendation. In early August, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees signed an order that allows patients to receive monoclonal antibody treatment without a prescription or referral if administered by an eligible health care provider.
Once COVID-19 dies down, the High Springs site will close, but for now Myers said Alachua County still needs it.
“As long as we have the transmission that we’re seeing right now, this is a great tool to address that,” Myers said.
At Wednesday’s press conference, DeSantis said all of Florida is seeing a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and emergency room visits since launching the monoclonal antibody sites.
He said vaccinations form a core feature of the state’s battle against the virus with more than 13 million vaccinated residents, and the monoclonal antibody treatments assist vaccination in keeping Floridians out of the hospital.
“Within 24 hours, I felt like a new person,” Melissa Frenyea, a person who had used a monoclonal site in Fort Myers, said at the press conference. “I’ve been sharing with everybody; I say that it works and if you’re sick, you should try it out.”
The Florida Department of Health’s website says high risk patients should sign up for the treatment quickly. The site reports the treatment reduced the risk for hospitalization and death by 70 percent in clinical trials.
UF Health Shands Hospital and North Florida Regional Medical Center also provide monoclonal antibody treatments.