(AP) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- who has been criticized for opposing mask mandates and vaccine passports -- is now touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor's company has invested millions of dollars.
DeSantis has been flying around the state promoting a monoclonal antibody treatment sold by Regeneron, which was used on then-President Donald Trump after he tested positive for COVID-19. The governor first began talking about it as a treatment last year.
Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical Inc., according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis -- $5.75 million in 2018 and $5 million last April.
It's not unusual for hedge funds to have a wide range of investments. And BlackRock, which has primarily donated to Democratic candidates, though has also donated substantially to Republicans, has a large holding in the company - more so than Citadel.
DeSantis ramped up the call for Floridians to seek out monoclonal antibody treatments in August as coronavirus cases spiked. He's held news conferences at treatment sites and a Tampa hospital touting the effectiveness of the drug if people receive treatment soon after testing positive.
"Early treatment with these monoclonal antibodies -- Regeneron and others -- have proven to radically reduce the chances that somebody ends up being hospitalized," DeSantis said Monday at a treatment site in Orlando. "Reducing hospital admissions has got to be a top priority."
Experts agree that keeping people out of the hospital is a top priority, but say vaccines -- not treatments for people after they get sick -- are the best way to do that. The Regeneron drugs, when given within 10 days of initial symptoms, have been shown to cut rates of hospitalization and death by roughly 70%. The vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. have been proven in large, real-world studies to be 95% effective against hospitalization.
"We definitely need treatments like monoclonal antibodies that can prevent mild disease from progressing to severe disease. Ultimately, it's still best to prevent someone from contracting COVID-19 in the first place," said Dr. Leana Wen, public health professor at George Washington University and former Baltimore Health Commissioner. "Monoclonal antibodies are not prevention."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and is receiving Regeneron treatments. Like DeSantis, he has been opposed to mask mandates in public schools. He was vaccinated in December.
DeSantis has threatened to punish school districts that require masks. He's also opposed to vaccine passports and has had an ongoing legal battle with Norwegian Cruise Lines, which wants to require passengers to show proof of vaccination.
Citadel's investment in Regeneron is a tiny fraction of its overall $39 billion in investments, but if the stock price were to go up, Citadel would benefit. DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw points out that Citadel has far greater investments in Moderna and Pfizer, which manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.
But the relationship has generated a buzz on social media, as Democrats question the relationship.
"Claiming that there is somehow 'corruption' by promoting the baseless political narrative that Governor DeSantis supports Regeneron over COVID vaccines (completely false, but that is another topic) is not even logically consistent when you examine the SEC filing," Pushaw said in an email. "Citadel holds far more shares of Pfizer and Moderna than Regeneron."
And while DeSantis has had a very public war of words with Democratic President Joe Biden about requiring masks in schools and other virus precautions, they both encourage monoclonal antibody treatments. A Regeneron treatment costs more than $1,000, while a vaccine costs about $25.
"Vaccines prevent serious illness from COVID-19. But if someone who is unvaccinated gets COVID, or a vaccinated person gets a breakthrough infection, those in risk categories with comorbidities should consider getting early treatment with Regeneron. It is safe, effective, and free of charge to all patients in Florida. This should not be a political issue --- it's about saving lives," Pushaw said.
The federal government is paying for the monoclonal antibody treatments and patients aren't being charged for the antibody cocktail. Florida has set up treatment sites in Jacksonville, Orlando and Brevard County. The state plans to add more sites.
Griffin, a billionaire, has donated tens of millions of dollars to other conservative candidates and political committees across the country. He was raised in Florida and is building an oceanfront mansion near Trump's Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago resort.
Citadel declined to comment.