Continuing his tour across the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis this morning stopped at Daytona State College’s Palm Coast campus to announce the opening of a free monoclonal treatment center made possible by federal funds. The treatment will be open seven days a week starting Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The treatments do not require a prescription.
Monoclonal therapy, an antibody cocktail, was once an experimental treatment designed to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 early in an infection. It first drew attention when it was administered to then-President Trump last October, when he tested positive for Covid. Trump attributed his “cure” to the injection. As of mid-August, some 600,000 people had received the treatment across the country as federal strategy made the treatment a key component of fighting the disease, especially in places where vaccines have stalled. The treatment is recommended for individuals at high-risk of developing acute Covid.
DeSantis, his tour approximating the choreography of campaign stops, has been appearing at monoclonal treatment center openings almost daily. Some 25 sites have opened in the last few weeks. He typically doesn’t acknowledge the federal government’s role in making the centers possible, instead taking the credit for their rollout, as he did in Palm Coast this morning.
“We think that this is something that is very, very–has been very effective for a lot of people, and we’re happy to be able to do this here in Palm Coast,” DeSantis said, attributing a recent decline in hospitalizations to the treatment. The treatment has, in fact, helped effectively limit hospitalizations, though not necessarily to the point of invariably reducing hospitalizations: while Florida appears to have passed the peak of its latest, and most severe, wave of the pandemic–more than 300 people a day are dying–case loads and hospitalizations are rising elsewhere, even in regions where monoclonal therapy is available. Nevertheless, the treatment may be administered to people who already have Covid and has been shown to stop the progress of the disease. It has also been administered as a preventive measure to those without Covid. While vaccines need up to six weeks to become fully effective, monoclonal treatment’s effects are almost immediate.
The treatment replicates antibodies that the body’s immune system would produce when fighting Covid-19.
“We’re sending the message that this is something that’s treatable, and this is something that’s been proven to be effective and again, free of charge for people,” DeSantis said, “not something that obviously you’re going to be required to do. That’s your decision about what you want to do in terms of your treatment. But it is something that is now more widespread knowledge of and is more readily available for folks.”
The treatment is manufactured by Regeneron, one of two companies that produce it. Eli Lilly is the other, though Regeneron’s version currently dominates the scene. Regeneron’s data indicated an “81 percent reduced risk of symptomatic infections in close contacts of [Covid-19] infected individuals,” the company said when the Food and Drug Administration authorized the treatment. “In those who require repeat dosing for ongoing exposure, REGEN-COV can also now be administered monthly,” the company said.
But the company adds: the treatment “is not a substitute for vaccination against Covid-19, and is not authorized for pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent Covid-19.”
DeSantis made no such mention at his announcement this morning. He barely mentioned vaccines, and the one time he did, he almost reversed Regeneron’s caution, placing the treatment on par with, if not ahead of, vaccines: “Vaccines are part of it but you also have treatment I think this is a good, and this is not uncommon at our sites to have folks who who were fully vaccinated, come in and still still need treatment,” DeSantis said. “I think that that the treatment part of it, it’s just got to be a really significant part of how we’re looking at this going forward.” The governor made no push for vaccines, which have stalled in Florida and Flagler–and are still considered the most effective, long-term mean of containing Covid-19.
DeSantis appeared with Sen. Travis Hutson and Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, the state EMS director at the Florida Department of Health. Scheppke’s advice was more pragmatic: “If you’re a high risk individual and you test positive, you should be thinking where can I go get the treatment and get it early,” he said. “Like all things in medicine, early treatment works better than late treatment. You can’t wait until you’re really really sick. So don’t wait for those really bad symptoms to show up, because then it may be too late for the treatment to work for you.” Only Scheppke mentioned that “the federal government already bought this so this is this is free for patients.”
DeSantis said the Daytona State College site could do between 150 and 200 treatments a day, with some 70,000 treatments administered by today. “I think this has kept an awful lot of people out of the hospital, and I think it’s definitely save lives,” he said.
DeSantis’ appearance was billed as a news conference, though he took more comments from an audience of fans than questions. One of the questions was about his perspective on the ongoing litigation over DeSantis’s mask mandate. A Leon County judge last month ruled that the order was illegal, and in a hearing today lifted a stay of his decision. The stay was enacted when DeSantis appealed the ruling. The judge had not yet ruled on lifting the stay when DeSantis spoke this morning.
“What we found is,” DeSantis said, “in the trial courts in Tallahassee, state and federal, we typically lose if there’s a political component to it, but then in the appeals court we almost always win. And so I don’t think that he’s going to lift the stay, the judge will lift the stay. But if it is lifted, I am confident that that will be reinstated, you know, at the 11th circuit.” He said the infection numbers are declining anyway, and claimed–incorrectly, at least for Flagler–that “the data never supported that schools are driving community spread of this.” In Flagler last week, half the infections recorded were among students and school staff.