'So much privilege': Epidemiologist blasts Ben Carson's access to $650,0 COVID treatment pre-FDA approval

'So much privilege': Epidemiologist blasts Ben Carson's access to $650,0 COVID treatment pre-FDA approval
President Donald J. Trump introduces Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, during the Executive Order signing to establish the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

One of the numerous White House and Republican officials to contract the COVID-19 virus is HUD director Ben Carson. With the Trump administration news cycle adding years to every day, Carson's condition was kept out of public. On Friday, Carson wrote on his Facebook page that his experience became very dire.

Carson wrote: "Thank you everyone for your support and prayers as Candy and I battled COVID-19. I was extremely sick and initially took Oleander 4X with dramatic improvement. However, I have several co-morbidities and after a brief period when I only experienced minor discomfort, the symptoms accelerated and I became desperately ill. President Trump was following my condition and cleared me for the monoclonal antibody therapy that he had previously received, which I am convinced saved my life." As epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted, "He survived after using monoclonal antibody drugs—*before* it was FDA approved. So much privilege—250k Americans weren't so lucky."

Estimates on what this treatment would have cost any of the 250,000 Americans who have died after contracting the virus range from well above $100,000 to about $650,000, in our current system. Whether or not this combination of drugs helped save Carson's life is not entirely proven. Carson was able to receive the treatment well before the FDA approved it, on Saturday—the day after Carson's Facebook post.

The drug, according to the Washington Post, made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, is the second monoclonal antibody therapy cleared for treating COVID-19. It works by imitating an immune response from the patient's body. In cases where the patient's body is not creating an adequate immune response, this drug can help mitigate how severe someone's illness becomes.

Research has suggested that what works for some people will not work for others. However, the very real public health problem here is that our country cannot provide even a few hundred people with these treatments every day, let alone thousands every day. Part of that is our country's medical infrastructure and the costs of producing the drug itself.

Unlike conventional pills, these drugs are synthesized by living organisms in specialized reactors, at a biological pace that can't be rushed. A worldwide scramble to find capacity to make the drugs is underway, with companies striking deals with competitors to increase their manufacturing capabilities.

The Trump administration has so far bought 300,000 doses "with an option to buy hundreds of thousands more." At between $1,250 and $1,500 a dose, that is around half a billion. Right now the U.S. is averaging more than 171,000 new cases every day. Without public health interventions that number will increase exponentially. And while Ben Carson mentions the need for people to "stop playing politics," there is literally only one group of people playing the dangerous political games that has led to more than a quarter million dead Americans.

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