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Florida Launches Antibody Treatment Effort To Help Relieve COVID Strain On Hospitals

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The Florida Channel
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Gov. Ron DeSantis announces that Florida is increasing the availability of monoclonal antibody therapies during a news conference in Jacksonville on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in downtown Jacksonville touting Regeneron, an antibody treatment for those infected with the coronavirus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that the state is launching a rapid response unit to expand the use of monoclonal antibodies to relieve pressure at hospitals that continue to report a rise in COVID-19 patients.

DeSantis said the drugs, made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, are for people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19. The governor cautioned people not to wait too long because the drugs are more effective when symptoms are still mild.

“I do think this is probably the best thing we can do to reduce the number of people that require hospitalization,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Jacksonville. “So I want everybody to know that this is an important way to be able to protect yourself in the event that you are infected.”

He also said that the treatment was not a replacement for receiving COVID-19 vaccines, which are effective preventing hospitalizations and deaths. Unlike a vaccine, once Regeneron wears off, you’re no longer protected if you have another exposure to someone who is sick.

VIDEO: Watch the Jacksonville news conference from The Florida Channel

“Maybe people thought that if you tell them there’s a treatment, they wouldn’t necessarily get vaccinated. I don’t think it’s an either/or,” DeSantis said. “We have people in society that are not vaccinated. We also have people who are vaccinated who are still testing positive. Either way, if you get in that situation, particularly in these high-risk categories, this should be your stop.”

Dr. Sunil Joshi, head of the Duval Medical Society Foundation, said the while vaccine is a good long-term solution, it’s not going to help you if you’re unvaccinated and already exposed to the virus. 

“You get vaccinated, you wait two weeks to get your second dose, then you have to wait two more weeks for it to be fully effective. So you're looking at six weeks before the vaccine really protects you,” Joshi said. “What about these people right now who are getting very sick now, when our hospitals are at capacity? If there are people who are at high risk of hospitalization because of other risk factors, if we give them Regeneron, can we prevent that person from becoming hospitalized?” 

The governor said “strike teams” will deploy across the state to bring the treatment directly to vulnerable populations in long-term care facilities as well sites such as the downtown Jacksonville Public Library.

For now, the state is prioritizing people who have referrals for Regeneron, either from an emergency room physician or their family doctor. DeSantis said the state surgeon general will issue an order to make sites available to people who meet certain criteria where they won’t need a doctor’s prescription.

"These monoclonal antibody therapy sites will expand access to proven effective COVID-19 treatment,” said state Division of Emergency Management Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kenneth Scheppke.

Scheppke said the treatment has shown that it reduce severe illness, hospitalization and death risk by 70%, and reduces the odds of household contacts developing COVID-19 by 82%.

“What we’re trying to do, ultimately, is relieve the [emergency department] space,” said Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie.We do believe this will be a situation where the state, the surgeon general, will be able to help all of the hospitals around the state of Florida bring the number of emergency department admissions down and open up that space.” 

A treatment involves four simultaneous injections in the lower belly after a 20-minute waiting period for the drug to warm up to room temperature. The injection lasts about 15 minutes. Then, the patient must be watched for side effects. 

The Food and Drug Administration granted the drug emergency use authorization “for people who are not fully vaccinated or who are not expected to mount an adequate immune response to complete SARS-CoV-2 vaccination (for example, individuals with immunocompromising conditions including those taking immunosuppressive medications.)”

DeSantis said Regeneron isn't as well known because it received authorization about the same time as mRNA vaccines and that the focus “rightfully” was on vaccines at the time.

Former President Donald Trump was treated with Regeneron when he was sick with COVID-19 last year, before the drug was widely available. 

The state has contracted with private firm CDR Maguire to distribute the antibody treatment.  The federal government has shipped more than 15,000 patient courses to 162 sites in Florida since the beginning of July.

To find locations to receive monoclonal antibody treatments around the state, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.