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DeSantis opens new war with Biden on Covid treatments

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tore up the Biden administration’s plan to distribute doses of monoclonal antibody treatments to states. | Joe Raedle / Getty Images

TALLAHASSEE – First the masks. Then a quarrel over vaccine warrants.

Now a new front has opened in the Covid battle between President Joe Biden and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: Covid-19 antibody treatments.

On Thursday, DeSantis tore up Biden’s plan to distribute doses of monoclonal antibody treatments to states across the country. Florida and six other southern states have relied on therapies to treat patients infected with the virus, but also took 70% of orders in early September.

That imbalance prompted the Biden administration to begin redistributing the more than 158,000 available doses this week – and prompted DeSantis to attack the president for withdrawing therapy from Floridians.

“We were given a major curve here, with a really huge cut from the HHS and the Biden administration,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Broward County. “We’re going to make sure we don’t overlook anything. Whoever is in need of treatment, we will work like hell to provide the treatment for them.

He added that Florida is being punished for selling the Covid-19 antibody treatment outside the White House while the highly transmissible Delta variant has started to spread in southern states like Florida, Texas or Louisiana.

“I think we could have avoided in this country a lot of people going to hospitals,” DeSantis said. “I think it would have saved a lot of lives.”

DeSantis has prioritized monoclonal treatments such as Regeneron in its Florida pandemic battle plan, spending the past few weeks flying across the state to support treatments. Monoclonal antibody treatments are considered effective if given at the onset of an infection. At the same time, he opposed Covid-related restrictions such as requiring students to wear face covers, vaccine passports or mandatory vaccination warrants for workers. This has repeatedly put him at odds with the Biden administration.

DeSantis’ opposition to Covid mandates has raised his profile, with conservatives across the country cheering him on as he prepares to re-run and possibly challenge Biden in 2024. But the summer spike in Delta variant cases in Florida poses a threat to DeSantis’ electoral ambitions, with governor’s approval ratings declining as the state passes grim Covid milestones, such as hospitalizations and new infections almost every week.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday defended Biden’s plan to cut Florida’s allocation to antibody treatments, saying the administration increased the distribution of antibody treatments by 50% in September . But she also warned that the supply is not unlimited.

“Our role as the government overseeing the whole country is to be fair in the way we distribute,” she said at a press briefing. “We’re not going to give Florida a bigger percentage than Oklahoma.”

Federal records show Florida is expected to receive 27,850 goats from Regeneron this week, which is still the highest number in the country. That’s down from the state’s weekly average of 72,000, according to the DeSantis office. Florida and the six other states that received 70% of the federal supply now receive more than 55%, while the remainder is shared among other states, districts and territories, including Oklahoma, which will receive 2,840 doses.

But Biden’s plan did not suit Florida Republicans beyond DeSantis. GOP Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter on Thursday to condemn the White House, saying the redistribution of antibody treatments “stinks of partisan revenge against states like Florida.”

More than 49,000 people in Florida have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic first hit the state in March 2020. The delta surge over the summer resulted in more than 9,600 deaths in August and more than 818,000 new infections, according to weekly reports from the state Department of Health.

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told POLITICO that Florida health officials told the US Department of Health and Human Services on Monday that the state would need at least 36,000 doses of antibody cocktails for all 25 treatment sites across the state, not including locations where it is privately offered statewide. In an email from HHS on Tuesday, a copy of which Pushaw provided, federal officials told the state to expect around 30,000 doses.

Notably, DeSantis said Thursday that Florida was seeing a drop in the number of new cases and that demand at all 25 therapy sites had declined. But the state has historically seen another peak around the holiday season.

“We’re going to work like hell to make sure we can overcome the hurdles that the HHS and the Biden administration are putting in place,” DeSantis said.

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