ORMOND BEACH, Fla. — With little slowdown or decline in COVID-19 related cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis unveiled a new state-supported antibody treatment clinic in Ormond Beach on Thursday.

Florida Hospital Association reported nearly 17,000 people with COVID-19 taking up beds in hospitals across the state Thursday.

The group released a new public service announcement, pleading with Floridians to get vaccinated and to take precautions in hopes of seeing case counts and hospitalizations start to drop.

DeSantis, who has frequently attributed the increase to a seasonal peak, is now promoting Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatments as another measure of defense.

“The results have been very positive, clinical data and real world data has been very positive,” DeSantis said Thursday.

The governor unveiled a new state-supported antibody treatment clinic Thursday in Volusia County. The antibody treatment clinic unveiled at Ormond Beach Senior Center joined a growing list of clinics being set up.

Treatment clinics also have been set up at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Kiwanis Island Park in Merritt Island, Kings Forest Park in Tampa, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fasano Center in Hudson, Jacksonville Public Library, C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines and West Gate Park in West Palm Beach.

The governor said the state plans to open 15 to 20 clinics within the coming weeks, each with the ability to treat 300 people per day.

What is monoclonal antibody treatment?

Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment is a “cocktail” of two drugs. It takes weeks to months to produce and is designed to help prevent COVID-19 from attaching to and entering human cells.

The treatment, which Florida doctors have been using since late 2020, can be used on those who have high-risk health conditions.

It is not meant to replace COVID vaccines, but rather to be used once someone may have been exposed to someone with COVID and/or when someone experiences early symptoms of the virus.

It is not available to those already hospitalized.

“This is particularly good treatment for people who are at risk of serious complications from COVID and that is if you are infected and test positive,” DeSantis said. “It is also approved as a prophylaxis, so if you’re in these high-risk groups and had exposure to somebody that is COVID-positive, you can still do this.”

Trials show Regeneron helps cut hospitalizations, deaths, company says

According to Regeneron, clinical trials proved their drug helped reduce hospitalizations and deaths by 70%, and reduced contraction of COVID-19 by 82%.

With Florida facing high hospitalization rates, DeSantis is aggressively promoting monoclonal antibody treatments as a way to reduce those numbers.

It’s touted as a drug that can reduce the symptoms and severity of COVID-19, and monoclonal antibody treatments in Florida are available to anyone over the age of 11.

“The people that got admitted, over 90% of them regardless of vaccination status, did not get the monoclonal antibody, and so my belief is had this been known more, I think we would have kept more people out of the hospital, and I think we can keep a lot of people out of the hospital going forward,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis facing criticism for promotion of monoclonal antibody treatments

In promoting the treatment, DeSantis faces criticism on two fronts. Some say the governor should instead be further promoting vaccines as the primary defense against COVID-19.

A bit more than half of Florida’s total population is vaccinated.

DeSantis also faces criticism from some people who are trying to tie his promotion of Regeneron specifically to political motivations, although there is little evidence to show that is what is happening.

The criticism focuses on Associated Press reporting on billionaire Ken Griffin, head of Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund. State election financial records show Griffin has donated nearly $11 million to the governor’s re-election political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis. AP reported that U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records show Citadel owns $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Alexandra Bowie, a spokeswoman for Regeneron, told Spectrum News in a statement “…in fact, Citadel is not even among Regeneron’s top 125 institutional stockholders. This is public information that is easily fact-checked, and I would implore you to do so before reiterating baseless Twitter conspiracy theories.”

Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis, said in a statement: “Claiming that there is somehow ‘corruption’ by promoting the baseless political narrative that Governor DeSantis supports Regeneron over COVID vaccines (completely false, but that is another topic) is not even logically consistent when you examine the SEC filing.”

Pushaw added, “…Citadel holds far more shares of Pfizer and Moderna than Regeneron.”

DeSantis himself pushed back on the criticism Thursday, saying that there’s no connection.

Recommendations of monoclonal antibody treatments appear to be bipartisan. Biden administration officials also have called on health providers to use the treatments to help COVID-19 patients who are at risk of getting very sick.

Government funds Regeneron, but some patients pay to have it administered

In promoting Regeneron, DeSantis has repeatedly said patients will not have to pay.

While that is true in a sense, it is also because patients have already paid for the drugs. The Trump Administration agreed to pay Regeneron $2.6 billion for approximately 1.5 million doses.

According to Regeneron, the two supply agreements are:

  • July 2020: 300,000 doses at $1,500 per dose
  • January 2021: Up to 1.25 million doses at $2,100 per dose

While the drug has been widely available and in use in clinics and hospitals since late 2020, it is now becoming more available statewide through these state-supported pop-up clinics.

The federal government acquired the drugs and paid for them, while states like Florida are requesting them at no charge to the state, DeSantis said.

Florida has requested 7,000 doses of Regeneron so far.

As for cost, Regeneron told Spectrum News: “The drug itself is being provided free, but patients with commercial insurance may be subject to a co-pay/co-insurance cost for the drug’s administration. This is because the U.S. government cannot mandate commercial co-pays/coinsurance. There is no administration cost for patients with Medicare or Medicaid insurance.”