(The Center Square) – Florida’s Republican Congressional delegation has entered into the state’s ongoing rift with the Biden administration over access to monoclonal antibody drugs (mAbs).
The state’s two senators and 11 congressional members sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra arguing the “administration’s mAbs distribution policy continues to be shortsighted and burdensome on states and healthcare providers.”
Their letter comes after Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo accused the Biden administration of “actively preventing the effective distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments in the U.S.”
“The sudden suspension of multiple monoclonal antibody therapy treatments from distribution to Florida removes a health care provider’s ability to decide the best treatment options for their patients in this state,” Ladapo wrote in a letter to Becerra Dec. 28. “This shortsightedness is especially evident given that the federal government effectively prohibited states from purchasing these monoclonal antibodies and serving their populations directly.”
On Dec. 23, HHS and the FDA announced that Regeneron and Eli Lilly mAbs wouldn’t be available to states beginning Jan. 3. On Dec. 31, HHS announced it was withholding mAbs by controlling their allocation and the amount a state or health care provider could receive, as well as prohibiting states from ordering them directly from drug manufacturers, the delegation claims.
“This type of volatility and heavy-handed approach is handicapping states who seek to be flexible and innovative to meet the needs of its patients, such as Florida has done,” they wrote. “This most recent policy reversal comes at a time when cases of omicron, while mild, are rapidly increasing across our nation and the delta variant remaining a more serious threat.”
The administration’s actions have created an “artificial shortage,” they argue, which “is further exacerbated by the HHS’ actions in September 2021 to prohibit states and healthcare providers from directly ordering mAbs from drug manufacturers.”
In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden began sparring over the issue after Biden said his administration was increasing mAbs shipments by 50%. Shortly thereafter, HHS announced it was taking control of mAbs supply and distribution.
"We're facing a massive, massive cut in monoclonal antibody treatments abruptly,” DeSantis said of Biden’s decision. “Just after the president said they would have a 50% increase, we're now seeing more than a 50% cut for the state of Florida. So we're going to fight like hell to make sure that our folks get what they need."
In response, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration wasn’t cutting allocation to Florida. Supply of mAbs was “not unlimited," she said, and distribution "should be equitable across states across the country."
"Our role, as the government overseeing the entire country, is to be equitable in how we distribute," she added; "… we're not going to give a greater percentage to Florida over Oklahoma."
DeSantis then vowed that Florida would instead purchase mAbs directly from the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
"They do not have a direct purchase agreement with the federal government. The federal government has bought all the Regeneron," he said. "We are not able to buy [Regeneron] directly, given that."
Biden also criticized Republican governors like DeSantis who’ve opposed vaccine mandates.
“Republican governors in states like Texas and Florida are doing everything they can to undermine the public health requirements that keep people safe,” he said. “They're playing politics with the lives of their citizens, especially children. I refuse to give in to it.”
Since then, Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who signed the letter to Beccara, says, “I have received calls from many constituents who are desperately trying to find monoclonal antibody treatment, with no luck.”
“The State of Florida has already pivoted once from a highly successful state-driven mAb treatment model that saved thousands of lives to the current system wherein individual states are reliant on the federal government to provide them with their predetermined share of mAbs,” the delegation said.
They called on HHS to return to a state-driven model that allows states and local healthcare providers “to provide the appropriate care for their patients by ordering the necessary amount of mAbs directly from drug manufacturers.”
But HHS maintains it hasn’t stopped allocating or shipping mAbs to Florida. After Ladopo’s letter, an HHS spokesperson told CBS 12 News West Palm Beach that it’s “never stopped allocating or shipping COVID-19 therapeutics to Florida. With regard to monoclonal antibody treatments, the federal government has allocated about 22,000 doses in just the past two weeks. That’s in addition to the approximately 28,000 doses of product that they have on hand from their previous orders."
"In other words, Florida should have strong supply of product on hand – and more than most other states. We will continue to work with Florida to supply them with federal resources to support the on-the-ground response."
While meeting with several governors on Monday, Biden said his administration was responding to a surge of coronavirus cases by expanding its testing, including at-home tests, and encouraging healthy Americans to receive the COVID-19 shots and boosters.
"My message to the governors is simple. If you need something, say something. We're going to have your back any way we can," Biden said.
On the same day, DeSantis called on HHS to release mAbs and allow states to purchase them directly. By Friday, he announced he’d secured more doses from the administration.
“But for the federal government’s decision to restrict supply of monoclonal antibody treatments to Florida, my administration would have already opened additional monoclonal antibody treatment sites throughout the state,” DeSantis said.