Republicans question politics behind Biden decision to ration COVID treatment

Republican governors are slamming the Biden administration following an announcement it would restrict the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments, one of the only medically sanctioned remedies for those who have contracted COVID-19.

The move has also earned criticism from red-state medical officials who fear it will further overwhelm hospitals dealing with a deluge of COVID-19 patients.

Biden announced Tuesday the federal government is facing a shortage of the drug due to "a substantial surge in the utilization" associated with the highly transmissible delta variant.

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The Health and Human Services Department will now control and restrict how much of the treatment supply goes to each state.

The move elicited immediate criticism from GOP governors, even in states where vaccination rates are high. Earlier this month, the Biden administration had pledged to increase "the average pace of shipments" of the drug to states and to "accelerate access" to the treatment. It now appears to be reversing course.

"Today, I pressed President Biden's team to explain the sudden rationing of these life-saving treatments, without any warning, after the administration urged us to promote them," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement on Tuesday. "It is yet another example of confusing and conflicting guidance coming from the federal government."

A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has criticized Biden's COVID-related mandates and has aggressively expanded free monoclonal antibody treatment centers, suggested the president is targeting the Sunshine State and others who defy his mandates.

"It is regrettable that the Biden administration would play politics with people's lives during a pandemic by withholding a life-saving treatment and providing mixed messages to Americans," spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told the Washington Examiner.

The new restrictions are bound to affect a group of Southern states, including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, who have been expanding the use of the treatment to combat rising hospitalizations.

Biden administration officials say those states have used up 70% of the supply.

Government statistics show Florida tops the list and has received 30,000 doses in the past week. Texas, in second place, received 24,000 doses in the past week, HHS statistics show.

Many of the states have resisted mask and vaccine mandates, garnering criticism from the Biden administration and other Democrats.

DeSantis has been a vocal critic of Biden's mask and vaccination mandates and plans to impose fines on governments in his state that try to enforce them.

Florida and other southern states coping with rising COVID-related hospitalizations have been expanding monoclonal antibody treatment centers as a way to mitigate the virus in the early stages before it becomes serious.

DeSantis has opened dozens of treatment centers and credits the drug for dropping hospitalization rates.

According to state statistics, there were roughly 10,700 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Sept. 14, down from the Aug. 22 peak of 17,121.

"Our focus on early treatment with the monoclonal antibodies has made a real difference," DeSantis said Tuesday. "Our admissions today are the lowest they've been since the middle of July, and it's fallen, very, very quickly. Over the last many weeks, we had a big decline."

House Republicans are questioning the shortage and say they want answers.

Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, tweeted the Health and Human Services Department "needs to explain why and how it is interfering with the distribution of monoclonal antibodies."

States hard-hit by rising significant COVID-19 hospitalizations are abandoning plans to expand the life-saving treatment due to the new restrictions.

The antibody treatment has lowered COVID-19 hospitalizations by helping those infected build rapid immunity to the virus.

In Alabama, the new limitations have cut the supply of the treatment by 30%.

Alabama's Medical Association president issued a statement expressing "strong concerns" about the new rationing and how it will affect the state's ability to deal with high COVID-19 hospitalization numbers.

"Alabama's hospitals are full and under tremendous stress. That's why physicians are very concerned about federal efforts that will end up limiting our supply and access to this effective treatment," Association President Dr. Aruna Arora said. "We're calling on the federal government to help us provide more of this treatment — not less — so we can save lives and keep COVID patients out of the hospital."

The Biden administration said the rationing is temporary and aimed at "optimal and equitable use," of the drug, but gave no indication how long the restrictions would last.

"We will continue to monitor product utilization rates, variant prevalence, and overall availability of monoclonal antibody therapeutics to determine when we will shift back to the normal direct ordering process," HHS officials said in a statement.

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Pushaw, the spokeswoman for DeSantis, said that as of Sept. 14, Florida is operating 25-state-supported monoclonal antibody centers that have treated more than 90,000 people.

"We are working to ensure that the supply of monoclonal antibody treatment in Florida remains adequate to meet the needs of patients in our state," Pushaw told the Washington Examiner. "I anticipate that the governor will address this publicly soon."

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