Why is DeSantis pushing an ineffective omicron treatment? He just doesn’t care about us | Editorial

A woman enters a Regeneron treatment site at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines last August.
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We get it. It’s hard to back down when you’ve staked your credibility on a treatment for COVID that is no longer effective against the latest variant.

And when you’re the governor of Florida and you’ve made that treatment, rather than vaccines, a cornerstone of your COVID-defiant attitude, how do you admit that omicron has outmaneuvered you?

Apparently, if you’re Ron DeSantis, you don’t. Instead, you call the decision by the Food and Drug Administration to revoke emergency authorization for monoclonal antibody treatment “sudden and reckless.” You get into a fight with the White House and have your health department issue a petulant-sounding press release.

“Unfortunately,” the release issued Monday said, “as a result of this abrupt decision made by the federal government, all monoclonal antibody state sites will be closed until further notice.” Lest you miss it, that section is printed in bold and large type.

Anything to distract from the fact that even the drug companies manufacturing the treatments agree that they aren’t effective on the omicron COVID variant. That’s not even a new development: Both Eli Lilly and Regeneron sounded the alarm on omicron late last year. The FDA said this week that it is “highly unlikely” that either treatment would help with omicron.

And even though DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told the Editorial Board that the FDA’s move amounts to “a blanket denial of treatment that we know is effective for other variants,” Omicron accounts for almost 99% of cases in Florida and nationwide.

Politics over leadership

It takes a strong, confident leader to admit when he’s wrong. That’s the opposite of what we’ve been seeing in DeSantis over the past few days. Instead, we’re witnessing a governor lashing out to make political points rather than acknowledging that, sadly, the treatment that worked on the Delta variant isn’t effective on omicron.

He could have seized the moment and come out looking smart and reasonable. Where is the discussion about the other treatments that do work? The state is set to get antiviral pills developed by Merck and Pfizer, plus AstraZeneca’s Evusheld treatment and another monoclonal antibody manufactured by Sotrovimab. There’s also the antiviral drug remdesivir. The newer treatments are expected to be in short supply. If the governor wants to rail about something, why not that? Those are treatments instead of the vaccines that he now seems so loathe to mention.

But fear and anger sell. They motivate a base primed by ex-President Trump to vote with its gut. DeSantis knows that a fight with the federal government is an easy way for him to define himself for reelection and maybe the presidency. He even sent out a fundraising letter Wednesday saying President Biden was denying Floridians “access to lifesaving treatment.” Never mind that the governor’s clinging to treatments that are now ineffective in the face of fast-moving omicron.

Pushing the old delta monoclonals isn’t just wrong, though. It’s expensive — around $2,100 a dose, usually paid for with federal tax dollars. It could also be harmful. There are possible side effects including shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting with this experimental treatment. Yes, experimental, something DeSantis has either forgotten or ignored.

Then again, logic hasn’t been a strong suit lately among those who won’t accept vaccines administered to more than 10 billion people worldwide — and yet have no trouble embracing monoclonal treatment.

Make no mistake: By continuing to push for treatments that aren’t effective against omicron, DeSantis is once again choosing his own political future over what’s best for his state. Like a boardwalk pitchman in full cry, he’s irresponsibly selling false hope to COVID-worn Floridians. It has to stop — but we know it won’t.

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