The COVID-19 Treatment Only A President Can Get

Mounting evidence the drug therapy Trump credits with his speedy recovery may be extremely effective if given early

Returning to the White House after being hospitalized with Coronavirus less than a month ago

Data from Regeneron show that 57% fewer test subjects with Coronavirus required return visits to their doctors within a month of getting that company’s treatment, compared to those who didn’t. And with older patients, and/or patients with complicating medical problems, the results seem to be even more pronounced: 72% more were able to avoid further visits to their doctors. The study was comprised of more than 500 subjects, some of whom received the antibody treatment, and some of whom received a placebo.

Now that’s still a pretty small sample, but it’s pretty good news, at least on the face of it. Although reducing the frequency of follow-up visits to doctors also strikes us as a strange measure of efficacy. Except maybe it’s the kind of thing insurance companies are looking for when they’re trying to determine the cost benefit of one drug or therapy over another.

This of course is the antibody “cure” the President says he self-prescribed and promised to everybody “for free”. And as you might’ve gathered by now, it’s still in test phase. So if we walked into a hospital and said “give me what the President got”, that isn’t going to work for you or me right now. Not unless we can fight our way into a clinical trial. And even then we might only get a placebo. The President didn’t get any placebo.

And Regeneron re-emphasizes an earlier assertion: its product seems to work better if given early on: after infection, but before the patient’s body had started to develop an immune response.

Also, because of potential negative effects in very sick patients, Regeneron just a few days ago stopped trials involving those patients. That doesn’t mean any firm conclusions can be drawn from that yet. But if the Regeneron product looks like it can be most effective in COVID-19 patients who aren’t that sick yet, then that creates a whole new quagmire for doctors. Because how do they decide which of the newly infected people they see get it? Because undoubtedly, if they give it to people before they get too sick, they’ll end up giving it to a lot of people who wouldn’t have really needed it in the first place to recover. But if they wait, it may become too late for the antibody cocktail to be effective. Which as long as it’s safe, isn’t a problem in itself. But since there’s a severe shortage—which there is—then there’s the opposite risk: that it doesn’t get to a lot of patients who really need it, and they get sicker.

So there are so few doses available right now, it can’t really help most of the people it might be able to really help. And a lot of that is on the President.

While as we said, Trump touts the product he got from Regeneron as a “cure”, and promises it for free to anyone who needs it, in reality there’s not even enough out there to treat the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 for the first time in any single given day.

How did that come to pass? Trump decided early on to bet everything—virtually all the federal government’s COVID-19 fighting resources—on a vaccine, and not much else.

As we’ve all clearly seen, the message the President’s offered beyond promising delivery of a vaccine on a speeded-up timetable is pretty much “you’re on your own until then.”

And of course, it’s not a bad thing to put massive effort into getting a vaccine, but not at the exclusion of funding mass-production of things that might help in the meantime. 

Because only the federal government has the financial strength to do both: chase a vaccine and pursue a bunch of other mitigating therapies at the same time. But by-and-large Trump chose not to.

So where does Regeneron fit into this? The company—just like most of us—was left on its own in developing its product, and trying to get it out there. And from what we’ve heard from Trump’s own former FDA Director, Scott Gottlieb, it moved mountains on its own. It did get some federal money, but not much. What it didn’t get was the capacity to churn out and distribute millions of doses of its product as soon as development was complete. Because the Trump administration decided it was only going to do that for vaccines. 

And only the federal government can shoulder that kind of financial risk. Because, as we’ve discussed before, only the federal government can print out unlimited amounts of dollars; private companies can’t. And Trump chose not to invest in widespread emergency production of the Regeneron product. 

Dexamethasone, the steroid the President also was prescribed, has also proven effective, especially in extreme cases, and that is more widely available. But that’s because it’s an old drug that’s been widely available for years. So drug manufacturers just have to pump more of it out. The factories and production lines already exist.

So where does that leave the American public? With the President boasting about a cure almost none of us will be able to get until sometime next year, at which point we hopefully already have a vaccine. Many more doses of the Regeneron therapeutic may still prove valuable if the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, and some people still get sick.

We want to emphasize this: the reason that pretty much only a President can get the Regeneron therapy at this time is the result of a choice made by the President. Not an inevitability. A choice. By Trump.