Biden Administration centralizes distribution of COVID treatments, but hard-hit states say it will only hurt COVID patients

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The Biden administration plans to take over the distribution of monoclonal antibodies for the states and has announced that the distribution will be done “equitably,” rather than by need, a move that critics say will slash the supply of the therapy in the states hardest hit by the latest outbreak of COVID-19.

Quick Facts

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, pushed back against the Biden administration’s change to how monoclonal antibodies, a therapeutic treatment used to help fight COVID-19 infections, are distributed across the country. Originally, states and hospitals could purchase the antibodies directly from the supplier, but moving forward, the federal government will be in charge of distributing monoclonal antibody doses.

He added that shifting control of monoclonal antibody distribution to the federal government complicates the process of getting doses to patients, but also reduces the number of doses the state of Florida will have access to.

“To just spring this on us, starting next week we’re going to have to do that, there’s going to be a huge disruption, and patients are going to suffer as a result of this,” declared DeSantis. “More than 50 percent of the monoclonal antibodies that had been used in Florida were going to be reduced.”

The White House says the changes in distribution are needed to ensure states across the country receive access to the drug. “Just seven states are making 70 percent of the orders. Our supply is not unlimited, and we believe it should be equitable across states across the country,” stated White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Other states are also upset with the Biden Administration’s move to centralize purchasing. Dr. Aruna Azora, president of the Alabama Medical Association, said in a statement, “Alabama’s hospitals are full and under tremendous stress. That’s why physicians are concerned about federal efforts that will end up limiting our supply and access to this treatment. We’re calling on the federal government to provide more of this treatment, not less, so we can save lives and keep COVID patients out of the hospital.”

Last year, the greatest need for treatment during the earliest part of the COVID-19 pandemic was in blue states like New York and Washington State. The Trump administration worked to significantly increase the output of needed supplies like ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPE), and testing kits and get them to hard-hit Democrat-run states, as well as others dealing with surges in infection. Trump and his team even had the Navy prep two hospital ships in record time, sending one to New York and the other to the west coast to provide supplemental beds, laboratories, equipment, and medical talent to ease the burden on local hospitals.

Right now, as the country deals with another surge of COVID, this time the Delta variant, the greatest need is in Florida, Texas, and Alabama. Monoclonal antibody treatments when given early can significantly reduce the possibility that the disease will progress to a severe stage and require hospitalization. The treatment also helps shorten the duration of COVID-19 symptoms. Both of those outcomes help to ease the strain on hospitals and their staff.

The Biden administration defends its new distribution plan by saying that there is now a shortage of the medicine and that there should be equity, whereby all states are treated exactly the same, regardless of how many people are sick in each state. That has never been how the American medical system works, however. Supply is determined by need or demand, not by fair share or via some central planning board.

It’s hard not to see this as political retribution, since the three states with the greatest current need are run by Republican governors. In the case of Florida, Gov. DeSantis battled the outbreak by opening 25 state-run monoclonal antibody treatment centers across the state. DeSantis has touted the strategy’s success, noting that more than 90,000 residents have received the therapy for free since early August and that the state has since seen a significant reduction in COVID hospitalizations and ER visits.

If monoclonal antibody treatments work to decrease hospitalizations and enable faster recovery for COVID patients, then the Biden administration really should focus their efforts on rapidly and significantly expanding the therapy’s supply, rather than on rationing it. That way, every COVID sufferer who needs the treatment can get it — regardless of where they happen to live.