What Ron DeSantis' COVID fight with the FDA is really all about: Donald Trump

Florida's Republican governor is struggling to show enough deference to his state's most prominent resident

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 26, 2022 10:01AM (EST)

Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The FDA has announced that two of the monoclonal antibody treatments that have been useful in treating COVID are not effective in treating the omicron variant, so the government is no longer going to be distributing those treatments. That sounds quite reasonable, right? You don't want to be giving people treatments that you know don't work. That would be malpractice.

So naturally, Donald Trump's mini-me, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is having a fit over the decision. After all, DeSantis clearly thought he figured out a cunning way to avoid pushing the vaccines and angering the GOP's rabid anti-vax base while still pretending to offer some solution to the raging pandemic. His entire COVID response has been based upon the idea that the monoclonal antibody treatments are the answer. The fact that vaccines offer the best protection against serious disease in the first place was never of interest to DeSantis. Neither was the fact that monoclonal antibody treatments cost around $2,100. Vaccines, meanwhile, cost about $20-$40. For supposed fiscally conservative Republicans, that's quite a waste of government money.

RELATED: Ron DeSantis and Regeneron: GOP governor stops vaccine promotion in favor of treatment used by Trump

DeSantis' plan was always a little too cute by half and it didn't work very well as a medical intervention. But as a political strategy, it was quite effective.

Building on his months-long crusade against masks and mitigation efforts he began whining about the federal government's alleged unfair distribution of the treatments back in September when the Delta variant was still raging. There were plenty of the treatments available but he got tons of praise from the right-wing media anyway and further established his MAGA bonafide. Then in December, the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that the treatments were not working against the omicron variant so they advised the government to pause its distribution. Once again DeSantis and company went ballistic, ostentatiously pounding their chests and insisting that the federal government was denying the people of Florida their life-saving treatments. At the time, Delta still made up about 25% of cases so the feds relented and resumed distribution to Florida. Today, omicron makes up 99% of the cases in the U.S. and these treatments remain ineffective against it. Even the pharmaceutical manufacturers who make them agree:

As you can see, DeSantis insists that "there is no clinical evidence" that it doesn't work as if that has some relevance. Scientists all over the world have come to the same conclusion. As the Washington Post reported, studies in December showed the therapies were ineffective. Scientists at Columbia University working with the University of Hong Kong came to the same conclusion as did German researchers. A more recent study showed that the Regeneron and Eli Lilly therapies "completely lost neutralizing activity against" omicron and "also lacked inhibitory capacity." The NIH and the FDA, which have a responsibility to ensure that drugs do more good than harm, have both looked at the data and concluded the same thing. In other words, they don't work.

Nonetheless, DeSantis made the daft claim that some people who are taking the drugs are getting better. Of course they are! Most people who get COVID get better. That doesn't prove that the treatments are the reason. What it does prove is that people are getting pumped full of expensive, experimental drugs they don't need --- which considering that many of them are among the stubbornly unvaccinated is enough to make you reach for the cheap tequila.

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This is nothing new. The Republicans have been pushing ineffective cures from the very beginning of this pandemic. From Hydroxychloroquine to Ivermectin to ingesting disinfectant, bathing in bleach and now drinking urinethey've willingly tried it all --- except the safe and available vaccines which have been proven to drastically reduce your chances of getting seriously ill.

For all of Desantis' cheap political caterwauling, there are still plenty of therapeutics being sent to Florida. According to the Miami Herald, while the state will no longer receive the Regeneron and Eli Lilly treatments, the state will get "3,200 doses of the monoclonal antibody manufactured by Sotrovimab; about 4,700 doses of AstraZeneca's Evusheld treatment meant for high-risk patients and some 26,000 total doses of antiviral pills developed by Merck and Pfizer." And there is an ample supply of cheap vaccines if anyone chooses to be sane enough to get a couple of simple shots and save themselves the trouble.

RELATED: Ron DeSantis escalates his authoritarian purge

Despite all that, DeSantis moved quickly to cover his error in putting all his eggs in the monoclonal antibody basket by going on the offensive. He claimed that the president "has forced medical pros to choose treating their patients or breaking the law" and that Floridians' "access to treatment shouldn't be denied at the whims of a floundering president." His spokesperson retweeted a post by a right wing conspiracy pusher that said "the FDA is trying to make it so that people in Florida die of COVID. They'll kill people to harm Republicans." It was quite a performance.

Naturally, the oleaginous Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, got in on the act:

Cruz has always trafficked in this smarmy, patently obvious sanctimony but Desantis does it better. He combines that with the phony outrage, the histrionic battling with the federal government, the fist shaking and tremulous defenses of the regular folks in the natural voice of a demagogue. He has that knack of being aggressively shameless that the American right just loves so much.

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It will be interesting to see how DeSantis' former mentor down the road in Palm Beach deals with this. Donald Trump blasted those who refuse to admit if they got the booster --- DeSantis being the most prominent --- for being "gutless" and has, on occasion promoted the vaccines in his ongoing quest to be given personal credit for inventing them. But he also received the monoclonal antibody treatment under a very special dispensation when he had COVID and promised to ensure that every American had access to them --- a promise he never fulfilled because he was so busy lying about the election results. Who knows where he will land?

The word is that Trump has been frustrated with DeSantis for failing to show proper deference by promising not to run against him in a primary in 2024. But he may just let this one go since the latest polling shows him running 45 points ahead of his former protege in a primary match up, 57-12. Those numbers have been unchanged for months. As New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore observes, "if two impeachments and a failed insurrection haven't shoved him toward the dustbin of history, will Ron DeSantis?"

I don't think so. And all of the clever positioning to Trump's right or left, insulting Joe Biden and catering to the anti-vax MAGA faithful on COVID isn't going to change that. It's Trump's base now — all the rest of the GOP presidential hopefuls are just wallowing in it. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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