TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The governor's efforts to boost access and awareness of monoclonal treatments continued Monday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the addition of three more distribution sites in Alachua, St. Lucie and Charlotte counties. Florida now has at least 17 treatment locations across the state, making it one of the most accessible in the nation.
If given early, monoclonals reduce COVID-19 symptoms and the chance of hospitalization by 70 percent.
The effort is central to the governor's plan to ease the burden on hospitals that continue to fill with COVID-19 patients at near-record levels.
Those interested in antibody therapy can book an appointment online and receive treatment at the sites without a prescription or cost to the patient.
"This is just one thing we're doing," DeSantis said while announcing the first of the sites in Jacksonville on Aug. 12. "I do think that this is the best thing that we can do to reduce the number of people who require hospitalization."
Secretary Simone Marstiller, who heads Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, is helping coordinate the effort. She hopes Floridians will take advantage of the sites and bring hospitals relief soon.
"We've already started to see those [hospitalizations] plateau and decline in some parts of the state, even Jacksonville," Marstiller said. "We anticipate -- though I don't know if anyone has charted it -- but we certainly hope to see that the numbers will decline even further as we go into late summer, early fall."
The effort has received high praise, including from political rivals like President Biden's administration.
Dr. Cameron Webb, who focuses on vaccine equity for the White House COVID Task Force, told us recently that DeSantis was "following the science."
"That's following the science," says @CameronWebb46, the White House Senior Advisor for Equity on the COVID-19 Task Force. Dr. Webb giving @GovRonDeSantis kudos today for his access expansion of monoclonal antibody treatments. Comes despite the ongoing Biden/DeSantis quarrel. pic.twitter.com/sF7ADcf0Ee— Forrest Saunders (@FBSaunders) August 12, 2021
Critics, however, believe the governor is focusing too much on treatment and not enough on prevention. Some physicians and lawmakers have started urging vaccine incentive programs to boost shot rates as about 40 percent of the state's eligible population aren't fully vaccinated.
"We have to put every tool on the table to encourage vaccination in the state of Florida," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park earlier this month. "There needs to be incentives. Right now, our hospitals are in crisis."
Marstiller pushed back on the critiques.
She cited DeSantis' effort to vaccinate seniors first and his continued messaging that shots prevent severe illness, though he's also advocated individual choice in nearly equal measure.
"He is doing a lot," she said. "Whatever criticism he is receiving is, in my opinion, unfair. He is the governor of the entire state. He represents everybody and he cares."