The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Gov. DeSantis knows these covid treatments don’t work. He’s pushing them anyway.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks in North Miami on Jan. 26 after the Food and Drug Administration's decision earlier this week to revoke emergency use authorization for two covid-19 monoclonal antibody treatments. (Marta Lavandier/AP)
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If a loved one were sick with the omicron variant and in a hospital, and someone offered a drug that the Food and Drug Administration had prohibited because it didn’t work against omicron, and the manufacturer agreed the treatment wasn’t effective, and the American Medical Association also agreed, and scientific studies showed it wasn’t working, would you urge them to take it anyway? What would you think of the person who offered it?

These are not abstract questions in Florida. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is up for reelection this year and has been wooing conservatives with an eye toward a presidential campaign, has protested the FDA decision to revoke authorization for two monoclonal antibody cocktails because the data shows they are not effective against omicron. Mr. DeSantis denounced the decision as “indefensible” and an example of President Biden’s “medical authoritarianism — Americans’ access to treatments is now subject to the whims of a failing president.”

What’s indefensible is pushing a useless drug upon needy patients. Mr. DeSantis shows contempt for covid-19 sufferers. His stance is also duplicitous. Would Mr. DeSantis also sell a used car with failing brakes?

The FDA announced Monday that it was limiting use of two monoclonal antibody treatments, one made by Eli Lilly & Co. and the other by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, to cases in which the patient is likely to have been infected with a susceptible variant such as delta. The omicron variant now accounts for 99 percent of the cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA noted that experts had recently found the monoclonal antibody treatments in question displayed “markedly reduced activity against the omicron variant,” and that other treatments, including another monoclonal and two antivirals, remain authorized for use against omicron.

Mr. DeSantis is courting anti-vaccine conservatives who have regarded monoclonal antibodies as an alternative to shots. Florida was a major consumer of the treatments. The DeSantis administration this past week announced it was opening five new monoclonal antibody treatment sites but on Tuesday, after the FDA decision, the U.S. government stopped shipping them.

At issue is not whether the drugs work, but whether it is appropriate for a political leader to raise false hopes for a treatment that he knows does not work. Mr. DeSantis has been here before. Early in the pandemic, he was an energetic champion of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which proved ineffective against covid. He has also stood fast against mandates for vaccines and face masks, two of the most effective tools available for avoiding infection and stopping transmission.

Mr. DeSantis’s press secretary, Christine Pushaw, was quoted in Politico recently as saying the governor “stands up for individual rights against federal tyranny.” But it is pandering, not principled, for a political leader to advocate a medical treatment that doesn’t work when people are at risk of serious illness and death. If it were his own loved ones, would Mr. DeSantis recommend taking a monoclonal antibody treatment that would do nothing to save them?