The federal government’s decision to temporarily pause distribution of critical COVID-19 antibody treatments, in response to significantly overestimated Omicron projections, could be deadly, a furious Maryland doctor warned.
“People are definitely going to die because of this,” Dr. Ron Elfenbein, the medical director and CEO of FirstCall Medical Center in Gambrills, Maryland, told Fox News on Wednesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services paused the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly on Dec. 23, citing data that the therapies are less effective against the Omicron variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned was rapidly spreading through the US.
Three days earlier, the CDC said Omicron made up the vast majority — 73 percent — of new COVID-19 infections in the US.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes information about circulating variants in the United States by region,” the update explained.
“The frequency of the Omicron variant is increasing throughout the US and health care providers should refer to these frequency data as they choose a therapeutic option for their patients,” the agency said, also noting data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that these treatments weren’t effective against the Omicron variant.
“Based on this information, ASPR [the assistant secretary for preparedness and response] will pause any further allocations of bamlanivimab and etesevimab together, etesevimab alone, and REGEN-COV pending updated data from the CDC,” it said.
But a week later, in a stunning revision, the CDC drastically reduced its estimate of Omicron cases in the US for the week before Christmas, saying that the variant accounted for just 22.5 percent of all infections as of Dec. 18.
It also significantly lowered its estimate of Omicron cases for the following week, saying the variant made up 59 percent of cases as of Christmas Day.
The HHS quickly updated its order on Wednesday in response to the revised data, saying it would only pause distribution in states where Omicron made up at least 80 percent of COVID-19 cases.
However, Elfenbein, who runs antibody treatment centers, said the week-long pause already forced him to cancel around 250 treatments of the life-saving drugs.
“I am as angry as I possibly can be about this,” the doctor said. “I don’t know how many people throughout the country are dead, dying, in the hospital, or about to be hospitalized because of the mistakes that they just made.”
Elfenbein blasted the CDC, calling the agency’s overestimate and subsequent correction “just beyond the pale.”
Omicron currently accounts for just below 60 percent of cases in Maryland, according to the CDC.
“It’s just the height of bureaucratic arrogance, and it’s just, it’s horrible. I had to turn friends away, family, people call me, ‘Oh, my uncle has cancer. Can he get an infusion?’ I’m like, ‘I cannot give you an infusion because I will lose my medical license,’” Elfenbein said.
HHS said in its Dec. 29 update that the purpose of pausing distribution to states under the 80 percent threshold was “to ensure effective product is available in most sites.”
The department also said antibody treatment centers that are able to distinguish which variant they are treating in states where Omicron is more than 80 percent of cases can continue to receive shipments of the Regeneron and Eli Lilly drugs.