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Tuberville presses HHS secretary on department’s move to limit lifesaving COVID-19 drug

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), during a Thursday Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) meeting, questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra about the department limiting access to monoclonal antibody treatments.

When HHS announced that it would be rationing the treatment, the decision was met with fierce criticism from elected officials and the medical community. Many health care professionals fear as if the department’s move could lead to a shortage in the drug’s supply chain.

During the committee hearing, Tuberville pressed the HHS head on his decision to implement its restrictive policy.

Becerra responded by pointing to the amount of doses the state was ordering as a reason to justify the move.

“We have seen a tremendous increase in the demand for these monoclonal antibodies,” said Becerra. “Let me give you an example: In your state of Alabama, in July, your state ordered, all those providers ordered a total of 6,800 doses. In August, your state ordered over 45,00 doses. In less than two months it went up that quickly. Your state wasn’t the only one.”

He added, “The difficulty is that with that immediate surge, trying to meet that demand became complicated. So, what we’ve done is we have surged with that to make sure that we’re manufacturing more.”

Becerra believes that health care providers ordering the treatment through state government is a more efficient form of ensuring access.

“So, what we did is rather than let those therapies be secured on site… we decided to let the states decide how to best coordinate that,” stated Becerra. “So that state would make sure… that every Alabamian would have access to those monoclonal antibodies.”

Tuberville went on to discuss the need for therapeutics given that the vaccine does not prevent people from contracting the deadly virus.

“We’re so fired up about the vaccine, and I am too – I’ve taken it,” said the freshman senator. “It’s not going to keep you from getting it, most of the time – it’s going to keep you from getting real sick, and I think everybody can agree with that. We need to focus more on therapeutics – I don’t think there’s any doubt about it – and testing.”

“I’ve talked a lot of doctors, especially in the school systems,” he added. “We need to be testing almost every day, or every few days, kids before they come. Now, they can have the virus, and if we wait until they get symptoms, they’ve had it for two days, and they’ve already been in school, and it’s been exposed.”

Tuberville stressed the importance of readily available treatments to prevent the mass influx of new COVID-19 cases placing a strain on the state.

“I heard you say about equity, and I continue to hear everybody talk about equity, and I believe in that,” said Tuberville. “But we need to save people’s lives. We can’t shut down Alabama, or some of these other states simply for the fact that we might not be taking as many vaccines. We cannot let people die and especially teachers. You know, we’re telling them to go back to school, and they want to go teach, but we can’t do that.”

He concluded, “So, I would hope that we would not get political with this. Red states, blue states–it shouldn’t be about that. It should be about everybody, if they need it, they get it, and we just need to be more prepared.”

On Thursday, the Alabama Medical Association thanked Tuberville for his efforts to ensure the Yellowhammer State has access to the effective COVID-19 treatment.

“Monoclonal antibody treatment is not a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccine, but it does work to reduce hospitalizations and save lives of those who get COVID,” said Dr. Aruna Arora, president of the Medical Association of the state of Alabama. “That’s why doctors are concerned that the federal government is limiting access.”

“On behalf of all physicians in our state who are working hard to treat and care for suffering COVID patients, we thank Senator Tuberville for his outstanding leadership and concern for the people of Alabama,” she concluded.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL