Faced with coronavirus infections that are taxing the ability of hospitals to find space to treat those afflicted, Gov. Ron DeSantis has launched a campaign to offer a promising treatment to people already suffering from COVID-19.
In a news conference Friday in Bonita Springs, the governor announced the old Bonita Springs Library would open as a treatment center using monoclonal antibodies, which once injected into a patient can prevent the coronavirus from taking over human cells.
Florida is establishing clinics around the state to provide doses of the antibody treatment that is touted as being 70% effective in reducing hospitalization and death and 82% effective at reducing COVID-19 in contacts with family members.
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Workers scurried about to revamp the old Bonita Springs Library into a COVID-19 clinic as DeSantis spoke at the former library on Pine Avenue.
“This is something that you can do early, and it really does have a good track record toward reducing hospitalizations,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis promised there will be no charge to patients for the monoclonal antibody treatment distributed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.
DeSantis said the federal government has already purchased the company’s entire supply and discounted reports that some of his campaign donors with investment in Regeneron stand to gain from state use of the treatment.
Claims that his donors will benefit from state use of the Regeneron treatment is “misinformation” put out by people with “partisan agendas,” DeSantis said.
“They bought the whole supply, lock, stock and barrel. They bought out the whole supply,” the governor said. “Whatever Florida draws down, we draw down because it’s already paid for by the feds.”
An emergency-use authorization for Regeneron was issued by the Food and Drug Administration in November, a Nov. 21 FDA news release said.
“What we have been able to do is a standing order through the surgeon general here in Florida … so if you meet the criteria under the emergency use authorization, you can come in without having to go to a doctor first,” DeSantis said.
He said he has seen studies that suggest that “over 90 percent” of people who were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms did not get the monoclonal antibody treatment soon enough.
“I was back on track within a day”
State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who is expected to become president of the state Senate next year, told the governor’s news conference that she credits the monoclonal antibody treatment with speeding her recovery from COVID-19.
“In January, my husband contracted COVID-19, and of course he gave it to me,” Passidomo said. ‘”Within three days we each had the monoclonal infusions. I had absolutely no symptoms. I was back on track within a day.”
Passidomo said she had not been vaccinated when she contracted COVID-19 because she was not eligible for the vaccine until April under the guidelines then in effect.
Months after Passidomo received the antibody treatment, DeSantis is touring the state to promote the drug that eliminated her symptoms.
“People were talking about the buzz, this was something that was being done with the monoclonals,” he said. “It was being used. It was not something that was on the front burner. Clearly we’ve seen and identified a lack of understanding of this. People weren’t aware of it.”
Doctor: Antibody regimen a treatment, not a cure
Dr. Lawrence Antonucci, chief executive officer of Lee Health, acknowledged monoclonal antibodies have “been around for a while now.”
“If we had a high percentage of the population vaccinated, you wouldn’t see the number of positives you are seeing now,” he said.
The monoclonal antibody regimen is a treatment, not a cure, he said.
“If the virus mutates and changes, and these antibodies aren’t effective anymore, they’re going to have to develop new antibodies,” Antonucci said. “That’s the risk of even the vaccine, the virus can mutate.”
The medication will be available at the old Bonita Springs Library, 26876 Pine Street, near the Bonita Recreation Center.
The clinic, which will be able to treat 300 patients a day, will be open 9 am. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, according to the Governor’s Office.
Florida has announced other monoclonal antibody treatment centers in Merritt Island, Pembroke Pines, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, West Pam Beach, Hudson, Ormond Beach, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, and Miami.
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