Opinion

Republicans' pandemic approach is a monumental waste

Pushing expensive treatments but not vaccines is nonsensical by their own standards of good government

Monday's news that the Food and Drug Administration had given full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should compel those Americans who had said they were waiting to get their vaccination shot until the FDA gave its official sign-off to finally do so. It should also empower more aggressive measures from elected officials and government agencies in fighting the virus. In Virginia, former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe responded to the FDA announcement by calling on all employers in the state to require their employees be vaccinated. The Pentagon also stated it would make the vaccination a requirement of all active-duty troops as did New York City for its public school teachers and staff. More mandates from other jurisdictions and businesses are likely to follow.

But don't expect that same courageous leadership – or really, just sane policy-making – from most of the Republican governors of the nation's red states, the very places where intervention is most needed as the Delta variant continues to rage.

Currently, six states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas – have less than 10 percent of their intensive care unit beds available for new patients, a dire scenario. At times this month, ICUs in both Mississippi and Alabama have been at full capacity. As cases surged in Mississippi earlier this month, the largest hospital in Jackson had to convert its parking garage into an additional ICU station for the overflow patients. In desperation, Mississippi and several other Republican-led states like Louisiana and Florida have appealed to the federal government for help, including asking that federal medical workers be sent to their COVID-ravaged states.

No doubt, turning to the federal government for additional resources in an emergency situation is a prudent choice, even if it undermines the typical conservative bluster that the federal government only makes things worse when it gets involved. But it also highlights how, when it comes to COVID, Republican leaders have actively inflamed the situation – and how many are still doing so.

That is most apparent in Texas where Gov. Greg Abbott's own recent COVID infection served both to magnify the inequities within his state and demonstrate again how he has consistently weakened Texas' response to the virus. After receiving Regeneron's monoclonal antibody therapy treatment, Abbott declared himself fully recovered and encouraged every Texan infected with COVID to also get the drug cocktail. He also announced that the state was setting up additional antibody infusion centers across the state. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has made similar moves.

Monoclonal antibodies are an important tool in the fight against COVID. The problem is, the Regeneron treatment, a therapy that also still does not have full FDA approval, won't work for everyone infected with COVID, especially those in ICU whose illness has progressed to a very severe state, making it a sharp contrast from the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines that remain remarkably effective against the virus.

And that's the larger point. While Republican leaders like Abbott and DeSantis, not to mention Fox News, have been busy touting Regeneron as a miracle cure, they've been less eager to promote, let alone require, the best prevention measures available: vaccination and masking. Especially with masking and social-distancing measures, Abbott, DeSantis, and other Republican leaders have seemingly spent more effort preventing them than preventing COVID. Both governors have banned mask mandates in their states, measures that are now being contested in the courts.

For a party that claims to believe in fiscal responsibility and government efficiency, these Republican governors seem awfully willing to run up unnecessary health-care costs and clog their state's operations. While the Pfizer vaccine costs the government approximately $24 per shot, the bill for an individual Regeneron treatment runs at $2,100 per dose – a cost of nearly one hundred times the vaccine. Of course, almost every state is incorporating the Regeneron treatment into its anti-COVID arsenal at this point. But the huge demand for it in many of the red states – the same places where Republican leaders said little while COVID vaccines went unused for much of this year – is damning proof of how much has been carelessly wasted, not just limited public resources but precious human life.

Abbott and DeSantis ran for their offices promising to slash government spending, and they have both cut the public health budgets and blocked Medicaid expansion in their states. None of that helped equip their states for effectively combating a global pandemic, for certain. Characterizing such moves as sound "cost-saving" measures for taxpayers only makes their approach to pandemic policy and treatment seem more hypocritical.

Given that Americans may need regular booster doses of the vaccines for as long as COVID-19 continues to circulate, it's especially fiscally irresponsible for any politician to encourage the Regeneron treatment without mentioning vaccination in the same breath. And it's downright despicable for "small government conservatives" to look to the federal government to dole out the most extravagant rescues for their states when they've so willingly squandered – and impeded – the far more prudent and effective measures.

Abbot, DeSantis, and their ilk love to rant often about the dangerous creep of socialism from Washington. If only they would spend more time sensibly attacking the deadly explosion of COVID in their own backyards.

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