WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The state of Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a lofty push this month to increase access to monoclonal antibody treatments for people battling COVID-19.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
DeSantis announced in Jacksonville on Aug. 12 that the state would establish multiple sites across Florida to offer the treatments for people infected with the coronavirus.
In less than three weeks, the state has set up 21 monoclonal sites from Fort Walton Beach to Miami, including locations at Westgate Park near West Palm Beach and the Havert L. Fenn Center in Fort Pierce.
The treatments are for high-risk individuals who have contracted COVID-19 or been exposed to the virus.
All of this has been amid the large spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Florida that has put intensive care units under severe strain.
As of Sunday, state health officials said nearly 30,000 people have been treated at the 21 sites in Florida. At the Westgate Park site, nearly 1,500 people have been treated thus far.
Weesam Khoury, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, said monoclonal antibodies help to save lives and alleviate the strain on hospitals.
"These missions aim to proactively treat individuals newly diagnosed with COVID-19 to treat the virus early and avoid progression into severe illness," Khoury said.
Most of the 21 monoclonal sites are open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for free treatments regardless of vaccination status.
Clinical trials have shown that monoclonal antibody treatments demonstrated a 70 percent reduction in hospitalization and death.
However, health officials continue to push for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and advise that these treatments are not a substitute for getting the shot.
The latest figures show that Florida continues to lead the U.S. in COVID-19 hospitalizations with 15,682 people. Texas is second in the U.S. with 14,496 people hospitalized with the virus.
Palm Beach County doctor treated with antibodies
Dr. Maureen Whelihan, an OB-GYN in Greenacres, is fully vaccinated but still tested positive for COVID-19.
Days after getting the Moderna vaccine, Whelihan said she started feeling symptoms of the virus. Once she tested positive, she received monoclonal antibody therapy the next day.
"I will tell you, it was a game-changer," Whelihan said.
Eight hours after receiving an infusion of Regeneron, Whelihan said her fever was gone.
"Within 36 hours, 90 percent of the congestion and the fatigue was gone, and by five days all symptoms were gone," Whelihan said.
Whelihan said her treatments occurred before the state opened up the 21 sites in Florida this month.
She said it is imperative for those who test positive for COVID-19 to get treated as early as possible.
"The whole purpose of this is to not wait around and see how things go because things can go poorly quickly," Whelihan said.
Whelihan said she feels the vaccine helped to reduce her symptoms, but the therapy got her back to normal sooner.
"You live each day like it's the last, and you make every choice that you can that's best for you as an individual," Whelihan said.