President Joe Biden has harshly criticized DeSantis and others for resisting efforts to encourage mask wear and step up vaccinations, promising in a speech last week that “if the governors don’t help us stop the pandemic I’ll use my power as president to get “them out of the way.”
Until recently, however, the government had shipped the antibody treatments to the states on demand – with health officials going so far as to encourage those fighting the delta surge to find even more in early August.
But demand from a handful of southern states has since skyrocketed, state and federal officials said, voicing concerns that they are consuming a disproportionate share of national supply. Seven states – Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama – accounted for 70 percent of all orders in early September.
The imbalance sparked efforts to tighten control over supplies as the government feared the government would not have enough available to respond to Covid-19 surges in other parts of the country.
Earlier this month HHS officials told the states that they would take a closer look at how many of the treatments were actually being used – but that the department wasn’t going to throttle the states’ supply.
“The answer is no, we didn’t go back to an allocation process,” said John Redd, chief medical officer of the HHS Emergency Preparedness and Response Office, at the time.
That changed just days later when the department announced that it actually planned to regain control of shipping cans, with assignments made based on case numbers and use of the antibody drugs.
“HHS will determine the amount of product each state and territory receives each week,” said an HHS spokesman. “State and territorial health authorities will then identify locations that receive products and how much.”
The decision sparked criticism from the Alabama State Medical Association, which warned against restricting access to treatment for hospitals already grappling with a surge in Covid-19 patients.
In Tennessee, Health Department spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley told POLITICO that the additional review of government orders had already resulted in delays in the delivery of drugs to providers.
Still, administration officials have been grumbling in recent weeks over the southern states’ reliance on expensive treatments paid for by the federal government – even as several governors attacked Biden for attempts to increase vaccination rates and lower case numbers.
Even states like Tennessee and Alabama, which rely heavily on the drugs, are among those with the lowest vaccination rates against Covid-19.
“This is where the surges are,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials, of the increasing demand for monoclonal antibody drugs. “And where they were unsuccessful with the other mitigation efforts.”
The new HHS policy marks a return to the early days of the pandemic response, when states had few other options to fight Covid-19 and the demand for treatments that could help keep people out of the hospital was high.
As the Covid-19 vaccines rolled out across the country and the number of cases fell, the demand for monoclonal antibody drugs fell, allowing the government to distribute them more freely when needed.
But as Delta fueled a resurgence across the southeast, Republican governors clung to treatments as the preferred alternative to reinstating public health restrictions. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has opened a number of antibody infusion centers despite trying to ban mask requirements in schools.
DeSantis has similarly touted efforts to make the treatment widely available, while downplaying the threat from the virus and criticizing the Biden government’s support for vaccine and school mask mandates.
“Florider who get this treatment are the people who need them,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw. “We are proud of this introduction and proud of Gov. DeSantis for leading this and raising awareness of this treatment across the country. “
In light of this increasing demand, the von Biden government has also made efforts to speed up the manufacture of the drugs. The government has already increased its total weekly delivery from 100,000 to 150,000 cans.
That said, it will likely take several weeks to expand the pipeline for the treatments, with state officials saying they expect the new limits to stay in place through at least October.
“Up until a few weeks ago, nobody really used monoclonal antibodies. Then there was just this increase in usage, ”said Plescia. “Now there is clearly a shortage.”