U.S. Limits Covid Antibody Treatments For All States As Shortage Fears Rise
After moving to limit supplies for a handful of states earlier this month, the Biden administration is further tightening its grip on states’ access to monoclonal antibodies following a dramatic surge in demand for the life-saving treatments in states with high coronavirus cases and low vaccination rates—despite the president just last week vowing to ramp up distribution of the drugs.
The Department of Health and Human Services is starting to allocate treatments to states based on case levels and usage of the treatments according to a policy introduced Monday, a senior HHS official told Forbes.
This marks a shift from the agency’s distribution strategy over the past few months which allowed states to freely order supplies, and reverts back to how the HHS distributed the drugs between November 2020 and February 2021, before they were widely available.
The change, which is all but certain to reduce supply in some hard-hit states in the Southeast, comes after the HHS earlier this month warned a group of seven states relying heavily on the treatments that they would need to cut back on their orders.
HHS officials stressed at the time that they had not shifted back to an allocation process, but have since changed course, though the senior official emphasized to Forbes that these changes are intended to be “temporary.”
Regeneron and Eli Lilly both announced this week they have come to new purchasing agreements with the federal government, which has secured 1.4 million doses and 388,000 million doses from the drugmakers, respectively.
The Biden administration is publishing weekly breakdowns of the distribution of its 150,000 monoclonal antibody doses on its website, with this week’s report revealing Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama as the states given the most treatments.
What To Watch For
How this will impact states relying heavily on these treatments. Doctors and state leaders in places battling some of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks have already started expressing concern, including Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who on Tuesday warned residents against “placing faith” in monoclonal antibody treatments instead of the vaccine as they “might not be there for you.” This came after physicians with the Medical Association of the State of Alabama released a statement on Monday saying they are “very concerned” that the federal government is limiting supply at a time when it should be helping “provide more of this treatment … not less.”
As part of its newly announced comprehensive plan for combating the delta variant, the Biden administration last week pledged to accelerate the distribution of monoclonal antibodies. It also introduced “monoclonal antibody strike teams” to deploy clinical personnel to “help hospitals and health systems stand up the delivery of this key treatment option.”
A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the Biden administration of “mixed messages” for his recent pledge. “It is regrettable that the Biden administration would play politics with people’s lives during the pandemic, by withholding a life-saving treatment,” the governor’s spokesperson told The Washington Post.
Sarah Tanksley, a spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Health, told Forbes in an email the department “cannot anticipate shipments for scheduling patients” because of the new changes. “Patients are being turned away, and appointments are canceled due to a lack of clarity on when treatment will be available,” she said.
While not a replacement for vaccines, monoclonal antibodies have been proven an effective treatment for those infected with Covid-19. The antibodies, which are mass produced in a lab, mimic the body’s immune response to the coronavirus. They are infused into patients with an IV and ramp up the body’s internal fight against the disease. Four different monoclonal antibody treatments have been granted Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and have proven largely effective at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid-19. The treatment developed by Regeneron, for example, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 70% in studies. States with high numbers of residents hesitant to get the vaccine had been increasingly relying on these treatments, setting up more treatment centers and more aggressively marketing the antibodies to the public.