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Biden admin needs Warp Speed for COVID therapeutics

I recently shared the same experience as millions of other Americans: despite being vaccinated, a loved one with underlying health care conditions caught the omicron virus. It was a hopeless situation. 

Faced with standing in line for over three hours, and potentially spreading the virus to those around us, we were able to get an appointment for a test the next day but knew we would still have to wait three more days for results.

Meanwhile, I could see the all-too-familiar asthma wheezing and struggle to breathe getting worse on an hourly basis. As a physician who has practiced medicine for over 30 years and taken care of thousands of patients with viruses and hundreds of pregnant women with asthma, I knew things were going in the wrong direction.

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We tried finding monoclonal antibodies or new antiviral medications, Molnupiravir and Paxlovid. Neither were available. Fortunately, we were able to do a telemedicine visit with a physician who had taken care of thousands of COVID-19 patients. He recommended Ivermectin. 

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Within an hour of taking it, the asthma symptoms settled down. With a second dose the next day, my loved one was actually better and on the way to recovery and avoided a visit to the ICU.

It’s been over two years since I first read about COVID-19 and almost two years since I was the first to speak on the House floor about it. Two years later, we still have limited access to therapeutics.

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Certainly, Joe Biden’s administration put all their eggs in one basket. They believed in a one-size-fits-all approach of vaccine mandates, masks and testing to get us through this pandemic. In fact, the federal government has allocated over $80 billion for testing and only $15 billion on therapeutics. This is unacceptable. 

We need to unleash our community health centers and county health departments in the COVID-19 fight. 

The Biden administration should have already established an Operation Warp Speed approach for the development, manufacture and distribution of therapeutics.

Take for example, what has happened to America’s senior citizens. The Food and Drug Administration waited until Sept. 22, when real world evidence suggested in June physicians should have been given the option to authorize boosters for seniors and adults with underlying health conditions before the delta surge. Between June and September, more than 11,000 seniors died from breakthrough infections while more than 230,000 tested positive. Therapeutics could have made a big difference in these seniors’ lives.

As I have said previously, we need to unleash our community health centers and county health departments in the COVID-19 fight. They have been the backbone of vaccination and treatment for communicable diseases for decades and once the Biden administration agrees to prioritize therapeutics, we need community health centers and county health departments to take over and implement treatments across the U.S.

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In Kansas alone we have over 200 community health centers and health clinics funded with federal dollars, along with 100 local health departments that are accustomed to dealing with infectious disease issues on a daily basis. These folks can easily implement protocols based upon triaging at-risk individuals, starting early treatment, and making necessary referrals to the emergency room.

They can do this. I know because as a physician who oversaw health departments, I’ve been working with these folks for decades. They do an incredible job and are well-equipped to handle this effort. But, they need the Biden administration to move on therapeutics – and move fast. 

The medicines you can get for less than $100 can often prevent hospitalization and ICU visits. We need to give doctors the options of using therapeutics along with steroids, anti-inflammatories and other standard protocols that have been developed by those who have treated thousands of COVID-19 patients. Certainly, if we have access to the monoclonal antibodies or these new miracle antiviral agents, we need to use them as well. But, give physicians the option.

Time is precious, and we cannot afford additional delays, confusion and mismanagement. The Biden administration must let patients and physicians decide what’s best in their unique health care situation – not somebody sitting on a throne in Washington, D.C., who seldom sees patients in the real world. 

Republican Roger Marshall, M.D., represents Kansas in the U.S. Senate. Previously he was the congressman for Kansas’ 1st District. Prior to Congress, Dr. Marshall was a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in Great Bend, Kansas. He received his M.D. at the University Of Kansas School Of Medicine in 1987.

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