Thursday, Dec 9, 2021

Standing Up for Freedom in the Sunshine State

Gov Ron DeSantis Puts the Brakes on Vaccine Mandates

Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping legislative package last week that sharply curtails masking and vaccine mandates, protecting Florida citizens from what he called “heavy-handed” White House vaccine edicts.

“I told Floridians that we would protect their jobs and today we made that the law,” the governor declared at the signing ceremony.

The event which took place in Brandon, Florida, capped a special legislative session called by DeSantis in October. The bill’s multiple provisions prevent businesses from imposing vaccine mandates on employees unless they allow exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, or natural immunity based on a previous Covid infection. Other exemptions include options for regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear.

The bill also includes fines for businesses that fire a worker without allowing the exemptions—the first state to legislate penalties of this sort. Small businesses of 99 employees or fewer will face a $10,000 per employee fine. Medium and big businesses will face a $50,000 per employee fine.

“Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed Covid mandates, and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida. I’m thankful to the Florida Legislature for joining me in standing up for freedom,” DeSantis told a crowd at the signing ceremony. “We hear so much about mandates, restrictions—tearing people down. Today, we lift people up.”

Other provisions of the bill prohibit educational institutions and government entities from requiring Covid-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.

According to the new legislation, school districts may not impose mask policies; school districts may not quarantine healthy students; and students and parents have the right to sue violating school districts, and recover costs and attorney’s fees.

A separate bill denies the state health officer unilateral authority to mandate vaccines during a public health emergency.

The Republican-led legislature’s proposals were largely opposed by Democrats. “Does this session make us safer? No, it doesn’t. Does it address the problems of everyday Floridians? Absolutely not,” Democratic state Rep. Kamia Brown said as the vaccine mandate bill was debated. “Two years ago we could only hope and pray for a vaccine … now here we are politicizing something we should be celebrating.”

Much of the criticism by Democrats equated opposition to mandates with being “anti-vax,” although DeSantis has been careful to distinguish between his support for vaccines and his opposition to one-size-fits-all mandates that negate personal choice.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, said the new legislation was aimed at allowing Floridians to decide for themselves.

“We’re getting to this place where nuance is lost on everyone,” he said. “You can be strongly for a vaccine or for the opportunity for people to get a vaccine—and still not support a massive government-forced vaccination.”

“No one is arguing that the vaccine doesn’t work,” Republican Senator Danny Burgesson said on the Senate floor. “You can get one if you want one, or not get one. The entire purpose of this bill is entrusting Floridians with that choice.”

Opponent of Widespread Lockdowns

DeSantis has been an early and consistent opponent of Covid masking mandates and widespread lockdowns, vowing to keep children in schools and businesses open.

“This got him called a murderer by many national pundits and politicians. Yet his approach was vindicated,” asserted a NY Post op-ed. “Despite predictions of doom, the Sunshine State did much better than lockdown-heavy states like California and New York, not only in terms of disease, but also economically.”

“Now Florida’s biggest economic “problem” is the influx of people fleeing from states with more intrusive Covid policies,” the article noted.

DeSantis has spoken about the detrimental effect of forcing children to wear masks. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to start putting our kids first. We’ve got to look out for their overall education. Is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don’t think it is. I have a 3-year-old son…and you’ve got people like Fauci saying he should be muzzled, that you should be throwing masks at these 3-year-old kids. It’s totally unacceptable.”

The governor continued, addressing anyone calling for lockdowns: “You’re not getting that done in Florida.”

He went further, promising to protect Florida residents’ “livelihoods, kids’ rights to go to school, people’s rights to run their small businesses.

“No nurse, no firefighter, no police officer, no trucker — no anybody — should lose their job because of these Covid jabs,” DeSantis said before signing the new legislation last week. “Florida is leading. This is the strongest piece of legislation that’s been enacted anywhere in the country in this regard.”

The governor noted that fears of recession haven’t overtaken Florida because the economy was opened and people were able to get to work. Many residents, he said, have told him they would be on the streets or their businesses would have been shuttered if not for this approach.

Antibody Treatment Centers Across Florida Crush Covid Wave  

When the vaccines were first rolled out, the governor made repeated public appearances urging people to get vaccinated, a NY Times report said, noting that “Gov. Ron DeSantis crisscrossed Florida promoting vaccines, visiting retiree communities and hospitals, and celebrating people who got their shots.”

But that picture has “changed remarkably,” the article noted. “Unlike in the beginning…the governor has not made a big push for people to get boosters or their children vaccinated.”

Sources close to the DeSantis administration say that as Florida was hard hit over the summer with a Delta variant that caused a spike in mortality, and with “breakthrough” infections increasing, the governor made the decision to shift strategies.

He set up approximately 25 free early treatment sites across Florida, where patients could receive monoclonal antibody infusions, which has been shown to vastly reduce the risk of hospitalization or death in high-risk adults.

The drug has been distributed to states across the country by the Department of Health and Human Services, but officials say that it remains under-utilized in a great many hospitals. According to a CNN article, hospital officials cite severe staffing shortages and “logistical barriers” as the reason they don’t administer more antibody treatments to Covid patients.

Since the opening of numerous early treatment sites across the Sunshine State, hospitalization and deaths have plummeted.  According to a government website, the 7-day average of new adult hospital admissions has fallen 80 percent, with the number of emergency room admissions for Covid in Florida today ranking lower than that of 33 states.

“As a result of the success of early treatment, our infections are now so low that we have gone from thousands to hundreds of treatments per day,” a governor spokesman said. “Florida is one of the only states in the country that currently has hospital admissions for Covid below pre-Delta levels, and is also one of the five lowest states for daily infections.”

Florida’s governor was joined at last week’s signing ceremony for the new legislation by a number of residents who shared their stories about receiving monoclonal antibody treatment.

In once account, Mrs. Doris Cortese, married for 60 years, spoke about her elderly husband falling sick with Covid while suffering from multiple medical conditions. A World War II and Korean War veteran, Mr. Cortese struggled with a heart condition, diabetes and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). He had just turned 96.

“One morning,” his wife recounted, “he woke up and turned to me saying, ‘I need to go to the hospital fast.’ We both tested positive. His chances of surviving were pretty bad. He was the typical example of a sick person who Covid would have easily taken. But then he received the antibody treatment, and three days later he started feeling better. In six days, he was back to a hundred percent! I truly believe without the treatment our governor made possible, my husband would not be standing before you today, living proof of what this medicine can do.”

*

Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo has urged other states to use Florida as a model. “130,000 Floridians got monoclonal antibody treatment,” he said in a NY Post interview. “Not only has it alleviated demand on the hospital system, but it’s saved countless lives since August 12 [when we initiated treatment]. Responding to Covid-19 does not have one solution, but requires innovative strategies like this one.”

One can’t help but wonder how many lives could be saved if the federal government were to pour a fraction of the effort invested in publicizing Covid vaccines into also raising awareness about life-saving antibody treatments.

 

A Neglected Goldmine

Three pharmaceutical companies—Regeneron, Eli Lilly, and GSK—manufacture monoclonal antibody drugs that are FDA-approved under an Emergency Use Authorization. The federal government purchased huge supplies of the drugs, and in early 2021, began distributing them to hospitals free of charge.

Almost a million doses of the drugs were shipped to hospitals in every state in the country. The treatment is delivered intravenously or by shots early in the disease, and doctors concur it is wonderfully effective in arresting viral replication and producing patient recovery.

Tragically, this goldmine of Covid-busting drugs has not produced a game-changer in the pandemic, as one might expect. Hospitals are generally not enthusiastic about offering monoclonal antibody treatment to patients. Some officials cite staffing shortages; others say “logistic reasons” such as lack of sufficient equipment including pumps and IV bags, and inadequate seating space for Covid patients, force them to limit the number of treatments they can administer.

While none of these reasons sound compelling in the face of life and death, it is a fact that accessing antibody treatment from many hospitals, even leading ones, is more often than not an uphill battle for a Covid patient, advocates say.

“It’s unconscionable,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert and professor at the UCSF School of Medicine, quoted in a CNN article. “We have an evidence-based drug, and it’s provided free by the government, but there are barriers built into the system to getting it.”

Surprisingly, one of those barriers is sheer ignorance. Many physicians simply don’t know much about mononclonal antibody treatment and when approached about it, display doubt or skepticism about its safety and efficacy. That’s often enough to dissuade a patient from pursuing the treatment. If he or she persists, they are left on their own to hunt for a hospital or facility that will administer it.

The CNN article singled out the Mayo Clinic as an exception. The hospital is doing 30 to 40 procedures per day at its main hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. When Covid cases were surging in late September, that number rose to 50 per day.

Mayo faced the same staff shortages and logistical barriers as other hospitals, but decided to resolve these issues when it saw the suffering of early Covid-19 patients, Dr. Raymund Razonable, who heads the hospital’s antibody program, told CNN. 

Hospital authorities joined him in ironing out the obstacles, he said. They activated the electronic health systems, the nursing pool and the pharmacy group to help make antibody infusion a successful program. It is now performing with a high rate of success.

“Not all physicians knew that monoclonal antibodies even exist, so that has been one of the initial hurdles,” Dr. Razonable said, adding that when a hospital’s leadership is pro-active, the obstacles to antibody treatment can all be resolved.

 

Biden Cuts Back Regeneron Supplies to Non-compliant States

The dramatic dent that Florida’s treatment centers were making on Covid infection/mortality rates were raising spirits when, in the middle of the summer surge, news came from the White House that the state’s supplies of Regeneron were being cut, DeSantis recounted in an interview.

The governor said he saw this as a “punitive measure” in retaliation for Florida’s flouting of masking and vaccine mandates.

“That was concerning to us because there was a significant demand for the treatments,” DeSantis said. “I looked at what other options were available for Florida. There was another very effective monoclonal antibody treatment called Sotrovimab made by GlaxoSmithKline that had recently received emergency use authorization (EAU). We went directly to the manufacturer, got Sotrovimab for Florida and deployed it.”

Unlike Regenron which the federal government has supplied to states free of charge, the expensive “GSK” drug is coming from Florida’s budget.

Anticipating further retaliation from the White House, Florida’s U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, introduced the Treatment Restoration for Emergency Antibody Therapeutics (TREAT) Act.

This would prevent the Dept of Human Health Services (HHS) from restricting hospitals from ordering monoclonal antibody treatments directly from manufacturers to meet local demand, reported FloridaPolitics. In this way, states could circumvent federal rationing of the life-saving drugs.

Meanwhile, opposition to Covid mandates has been growing in other Republican-controlled states, including Texas, a NY Times article said. “In addition to Florida, at least five other states have considered or held special sessions on pandemic mandates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

 

States Begin Withdrawing From OSHA

As part of the new legislation signed last week, DeSantis also approved a bill directing the state to begin planning a withdrawal from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which drafted White House vaccine requirements for private businesses with more than 100 employees.

Along with more than two dozen other GOP-led states, employers and several business organizations, Florida has sued the government over the OSHA Covid regulations, claiming “federal government overreach.”

A federal court has since placed the OSHA regulations on hold, while litigation over the OSHA mandates play out.

OSHA’s Covid regulations consist of “500 pages of a government of bureaucracy, a government that is being run by executive edict, not a government bound by constitutional constraints,” said Gov. DeSantis. “The federal government cannot unilaterally impose medical policy under the guise of workplace regulation.”

“The remarkable ease at which this president will abandon the rule of law and separation of powers is devastating to the autonomy of American workers,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. “The president does not have the power to force health policy through a workplace safety department. That is not a lawful use of the U.S. Department of Labor.”

OSHA announced last week that they would abide by a court order to not take further steps to implement the new rule, which would require large companies to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations or regular testing among their employees

 

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Hit with Separate Florida Lawsuit

Florida has also taken on the CMS, arguing in a separate lawsuit that a serious health care worker shortage in that state will be exacerbated by a CMS mandate that will force institutions to fire employees who are not vaccinated by a January 2022 deadline.

The CMS mandate comes as the nation is already experiencing what some are calling the worst health care crisis in memory. “More than 90 percent of long-term care facilities in Florida report staffing shortages,” a government website notes.

A poll published in October found that more than 70 percent of unvaccinated workers would quit a job if vaccination became a prerequisite of employment. Many health care workers have natural immunity, yet the CMS rule makes no exception for those who previously contracted Covid-19.

Florida’s attorney general filed for a Temporary Restraining Order in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola. According to the complaint, Florida stands to lose millions of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare payouts as a result of the rule.

“President Biden, who once lauded these medical professionals as heroes sacrificing their safety to save Americans from Covid, now abandons them at the worst possible time—just as pandemic burnout is thinning our health care ranks and creating a dire staffing shortage,” Attorney General Moody said in a statement.

*****

Monsey-Based Group Facilitates Antibody Treatment Across the United States 

A recent CNN article described how in “in New York, months ago, “a shoemaker, a lawyer, and three housewives” saw the need for monoclonal antibodies in their community, according to Mrs. Shoshana Bernstein, a spokeswoman for the group.

In September, the group, called CPI (Covid Plasma Initiative), who facilitated thousands of life-saving plasma donations in 2020, arranged for several hundred antibody treatments a week, Mrs. Bernstein told CNN. 

She described how the group accomplished this by monitoring websites for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and for the National Infusion Center Association. They were tracking where the government had delivered free supplies of monoclonal antibodies in its distribution operations across the country.

A hotline staff of 12 people, all volunteers, some with contacts in many different cities, took calls from people sick with Covid, then relentlessly called one facility after another to arrange for patients to get treatment in whatever facility they were closest to, the CNN article detailed.

In a phone interview with Yated, Mrs. Bernstein elaborated on the work of CPI and how the team began networking to spread the word about life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments made available by the federal government. They contacted community leaders, rabbonim, medical facilities, and bikur cholim organizations in communities across the country.

In addition, they launched a public information campaign through a string of ads in Jewish publications from coast to coast. Help with this endeavor came from an individual who had recovered from Covid after receiving a monoclonal antibody. A generous donation helped fund a multi-city publicity campaign of ads and public announcements.

The networking and publicity bore fruit. “It was a tireless grassroots effort but thanks to the CPI hotline—828-4-Plasma—monoclonal antibody treatment is now widely known in Jewish communities across the country,” said Mrs. Bernstein, who serves as CPI’s communications director.

She described the process of “cold-calling” hospitals all across the United States, with nothing but a telephone number and the name of a doctor. She and her co-workers focused on facilities that were close to the Jewish communities from which most of the CPI hotline’s callers came.

The Monsey-based activist said she often found herself on the phone—a person without a medical degree—explaining to physicians the benefits of monoclonal antibodies and which patients match the government’s criteria for eligibility. The criteria have been broadened to include people in high-risk categories for a wide variety of medical conditions.

Hospital authorities, whom one would expect to be offended at being given medical information and advice by a layman, were initially resistant but often softened and became receptive. “Doctors, like the rest of us, have been humbled by Covid,” Mrs. Bernstein reflected.

‘Liquid Gold’ Was Buried on Hospital Shelves

“In the beginning, many hospitals we spoke to didn’t know they had this ‘liquid gold’ buried on their shelves,” she said. “This precious medication was just lying there. Even once they confirmed they had it, there were other roadblocks, such as hospital directors claiming it wasn’t clear the treatment worked, or the facility wasn’t equipped to handle infusions.”

“None of us are medical professionals, and there we were explaining medical facts, giving evidence, telling doctors things they didn’t know,” Mrs. Bernstein said.

“This was during the high point of the Delta wave which, when it hit, was quick and brutal. And we were having these conversations with hospitals when lives were at stake and you couldn’t afford to fail. It was incredibly intense, hours and hours of literally nonstop effort.”

The team, directed by Mrs. Zeldy Oppen and Mrs. Racheli Monczyk, speculates that the numbers of people for whom CPI arranged monoclonal antibody infusion run into the thousands.

The patients cover a wide spectrum of people of all ages and levels of health, young and elderly, pregnant women as well as patients with a variety of medical conditions. Their medical history is meticulously documented and evaluated by medical professionals before the infusions are administered.

Qualifying patients cover a wide spectrum of people of all ages and levels of health, young and elderly, pregnant women as well as patients with a variety of medical conditions. Their medical history is documented and evaluated by medical professionals before the infusions are administered.

In the past couple of months, in-home treatment has become available through a new company called Mabsathome.com, which further expands access to the treatment at no cost to the patient.

While CPI, a small team of non-medical first responders, were able to mobilize the Jewish community to avail itself of life-saving antibody treatments, the medical establishment, tragically, continues to under-utilize these drugs for the general public.

 

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