WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Despite the temporary closure of all monoclonal antibody treatment centers in Florida following a controversial decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, COVID-19 patients still have options to get much-needed therapy, a Palm Beach County infectious disease specialist said Tuesday.
The FDA announced it revoked drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly after data showed they were "highly unlikely" to be effective against the omicron variant.
"That's why the FDA withdrew it," said Dr. Larry Bush of Wellington. "I think they look at it like, if they allow Regeneron to go on, it potentially harms you because it keeps you from going to get something that could help you."
Bush spoke to WPTV journalist Michelle Quesada Tuesday afternoon during a live discussion on the WPTV Facebook page.
Bush said that although monoclonal therapy centers have closed, COVID-19 patients can still seek treatment in the hospital using the monoclonal drug sotrovimab, which is produced by GlaxoSmithKline.
In a news release, the FDA identified sotrovimab as a therapy that is "expected to work against the omicron variant" and is authorized "to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk for progression to severe disease, including hospitalization or death."
Bush advised COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms who have underlying risk factors — obesity, diabetes, renal disease, heart disease, or lung disease — to call around to local hospitals to see if they have sotrovimab.
"The problem is it's in short supply. And on any one given day, they could be out waiting for their next shipment," Bush said
The FDA said the anti-viral drugs remdesivir, paxlovid, and molnupiravir are also authorized to treat patients infected with the omicron variant. However, Bush cautioned that those, too, are in short supply.
"Unfortunately, the demand has clearly outstripped the supply," Bush said. "The recommendation is still for people to make sure you're vaccinated and have a booster. And if you do get diagnosed with COVID, most likely you're going to be fine and have a mild disease. But if you have mild to moderate disease and recently diagnosed and you have a mild to moderate underlying risk factor, you should try to get sotrovimab."
Palm Beach County health director Dr. Alina Alonso echoed that advice on Tuesday, saying that once the county's monoclonal treatment centers reopen with the approved drugs, anyone in a high-risk category based on age or health factors should get an antibody therapy to avoid hospitalization or serious complications.
"Even if it's delta or it's something else, they all work against it. So anybody who is high-risk should get the monoclonal as a prevention," Alonso said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, has condemned the FDA's decision to revoke the Regeneron and Eli Lilly drugs, saying it was "reckless" and "will cost some Americans their lives." He added that his administration plans to fight back against the federal government
"They choose to pull the rug out of elderly patients — most of whom, almost all of them have been vaccinated — and say, you don't have access to this treatment," DeSantis said Tuesday during a news conference in Crawfordville. "This is just wrong. This is not the way that you help people."
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