Crist, Castor call on feds to send more COVID treatment drug to Florida


Florida’s Democratic congressional representatives are asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expedite a request from state health officials for emergency supplies of Remdesivir, a drug used to treat COVID-19 patients.

The Florida Department of Health allocates the drug to hospitals. The agency recently informed hospital pharmacies that it had temporarily exhausted all stock of Remdesivir, according to a July 7 letter signed by 13 Florida congressmen, including Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg

“According to health professionals we are hearing from, people will die without replenished stock of treatment,” the letter said.

The situation is especially dire in Pinellas County, Crist suggested in a separate statement on July 6, calling Pinellas County “a national hotspot for virus infections” and asking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to work to alleviate shortages in nurses, hospital beds and tests.

 “I don’t issue this plea for assistance lightly. But we have reached a crisis level and are at a tipping point,” said the statement from Crist, who himself is a former Florida governor.

He expanded on those comments Tuesday night on a telephone town hall. Crist said the decision by DeSantis to reopen the state was supposed to keep the people’s well-being as a top priority and keep the economy going.

“Unfortunately it’s pretty clear to me now that the state got it wrong and was moving far too quickly,” Crist said.

At a news conference earlier this week, DeSantis said the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has stabilized. He said the higher numbers are due to increased testing and the percentage of people testing positive hasn’t changed much.

Pinellas County has now reported 9,395 total cases and 209 deaths since the outbreak began. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, there were three new deaths and 363 new cases reported. The percentage of people testing positive has averaged just under 12 percent in Pinellas County over the past seven days. 

There may be another spike in case counts coming, Dr. Larry Feinman, chief medical officer, HCA West Florida, said during Crist’s town hall Tuesday night.

“I’m concerned that the 4th of July festivities we had on our beaches and in our communities will lead to an additional surge in about a week and a half from now, given the incubation time,” Feinman said.

Feinman said improvements in medical therapies, including the use of Remdesivir, are among the reasons fewer people are dying from COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and the Department of Defense jointly announced a $1.6 billion agreement with Novavax (Nasdaq: NVAX), to demonstrate commercial-scale manufacturing of the company’s COVID-19 investigational vaccine.

While that’s a promising development, a vaccine won’t be available for at least several months, Feinman said.

“Vaccines have kept us from getting many diseases. In time we’ll have one for COVID. But they have to make sure it’s safe, the side effects aren’t worse than the disease itself and figure out how to manufacture it in the hundreds of millions of doses necessary,” Feinman said. “In terms of timing, the earliest would be around the turn of the year into 2021, and that would be almost a superhuman effort. Most vaccines take 10 years or more.”

Crist said he is backing legislation in Congress that would fund vaccine production, as well as additional stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits and expanded availability of personal protective equipment and testing.

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