The federal government’s decision to temporarily halt the distribution of critical COVID-19 antibody treatments in response to significantly overestimated Omicron projections could be fatal, warned a furious doctor in Maryland.
“People are definitely going to die because of this,” said Dr. Ron Elfenbein, Medical Director and CEO of FirstCall Medical Center in Gambrills, Maryland, told Fox News on Wednesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services stopped the distribution of Regeneron and Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody treatments on December 23, citing data that the therapies are less effective against the Omicron variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned were spread rapidly throughout the United States.
Three days earlier, the CDC said that Omicron accounted for the vast majority – 73 percent – of new COVID-19 infections in the United States.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes information on circulating variants in the United States by region,” the update explained.
“The incidence of the Omicron variant is increasing across the United States, and healthcare providers should refer to this frequency data when choosing a therapeutic option for their patients,” the agency said, noting data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). these treatments were not effective against the Omicron variant.
“Based on this information, ASPR [the assistant secretary for preparedness and response] “will put together any further allocations of bamlanivimab and etesevimab, etesevimab alone and REGEN-COV on pause, pending updated data from the CDC,” it said.
But a week later, in an astonishing review, the CDC drastically reduced its estimate of Omicron cases in the U.S. for the week before Christmas, saying the variant accounted for only 22.5 percent of all infections per week. December 18th.
It also lowered its estimate of Omicron cases for the following week significantly, saying the variant accounted for 59 percent of cases from Christmas Day.
HHS quickly updated its order Wednesday in response to the revised data, saying it would only pause distribution in states where Omicron accounted for at least 80 percent of COVID-19 cases.
But Elfenbein, who runs antibody treatment centers, said the week-long break had already forced him to cancel about 250 treatments of the life-saving drugs.
“I’m as angry as I can get over this at all,” the doctor said. “I do not know how many people across the country have died, died, been hospitalized or are being hospitalized because of the mistakes they just made.”
Côte d’Ivoire blew up the CDC, calling the agency’s overestimation and subsequent correction “just outside the pale.”
Omicron currently accounts for just under 60 percent of cases in Maryland, according to the CDC.
“It’s just the height of bureaucratic arrogance, and it’s just, it’s awful. I had to reject friends, family, people calling me, ‘Oh, my uncle has cancer. Can he get an infusion?’ I’m like, ‘I can not give you an infusion because I’m losing my medical license,’ ‘Elfenbein said.
HHS said in its December 29 update that the purpose of stopping distribution to states below the 80 percent threshold was “to ensure that an effective product is available on most sites.”
The department also said that antibody treatment centers that are able to distinguish which variant they are treating in states where Omicron is more than 80 percent of the cases can continue to receive shipments of the Regeneron and Eli Lilly drugs.