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Allen West,who is running in a GOP primary for governor of Texas, was admitted to a hospital after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. West had not been vaccinated.
West promoted Regeneron, which is an approved treatment for COVID-19. But it’s safer — and cheaper — to get vaccinated than to risk contracting COVID-19 and getting treated.
The COVID-19 misinformation emanating from a Texas hospital this week was coming from one of its high-profile patients: Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen West.
West announced Oct. 9 that his wife Angela West tested positive for COVID-19 and that he was experiencing symptoms. West said chest X-rays showed COVID pneumonia and he was later admitted to the hospital.
When West was released from the hospital days later, he continued to emphasize the benefits of treatment rather than vaccination. "There are so many other protocols out there that we should be recommending to people," he said in a Facebook video. "This should not be about forcing people to take a certain shot."
West served one term in Congress representing South Florida. He later moved to Texas where he served as the head of the Texas Republican Party before stepping down to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott.
If he were elected, West would be in charge of setting Texas’ policies for responding to COVID-19 or other future health crises. So we took a closer look at his views downplaying the benefits of vaccination in favor of various treatment options. We found that his claims ignore the added costs and health dangers of getting infected with COVID-19, misrepresent the science showing that the vaccines are safe and effective, and contradict basic principles of health care.
We asked a spokesperson for West to provide evidence to support his statements and did not hear back. Here's a closer look at his claims:
"I can attest that, after this experience, I am even more dedicated to fighting against vaccine mandates. Instead of enriching the pockets of Big Pharma and corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, we should be advocating the monoclonal antibody infusion therapy."
Texas doesn’t have any state vaccine mandates. Abbott on Oct. 11 ordered a tighter ban on vaccine mandates for any individuals, including employees and consumers. So on this issue, West is in line with Abbott.
But his claim about Big Pharma is misleading, because both the vaccines and the antibody infusion therapy come from major pharmaceutical companies.
The monoclonal antibody treatment comes from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a publicly traded biotechnology company that had 2020 revenues of $8.5 billion. Vaccine maker Moderna, by comparison, took in $803 million in 2020, or about one-tenth as much.
The Regeneron treatment consists of two monoclonal antibodies, which are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. The FDA gave Regeneron emergency use authorization in November 2020 and revised the authorization in August 2021 to include preventive treatment.
Monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization for unvaccinated people, but the FDA has said that Regeneron is not a substitute for vaccination.
The federal government reached agreements with Regeneron to supply doses in 2020 and 2021. Under the most recent agreement, Regeneron will supply 1.4 million doses to the U.S. government by Jan. 31, 2022, at a cost of $2,100 per dose. To receive the Regeneron treatment, patients must find a site administering it by intravenous infusion or through multiple injections.
By contrast, the federal government pays around $20 per Pfizer vaccine dose. The injections are free to consumers and available at local pharmacies.
"Instead of jabbing Americans ... with a dangerous shot which injects them with these spike proteins . . . guess what? I now have natural immunity and double the antibodies, and that's science."
The shots may hurt a little, but they are not dangerous. The COVID-19 vaccines were proven to be safe and effective through a rigorous testing process, and through ongoing monitoring of people who have received the vaccine. More than 187 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated. Except in very rare cases, the side effects are mild and temporary.
The research shows that they, in fact, help prevent danger: The CDC released data in September showing that unvaccinated people were more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized than people who were not vaccinated, and 11 times more likely to die from the disease.
West is also wrong about the vaccines injecting spike proteins. The vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. contain genetic materials that help the body to produce the spike protein, which then triggers the production of protective antibodies. Spike proteins produced as a result of the vaccine are harmless.
Judging by his tweet, West considers himself fortunate to have natural immunity, and indeed, evidence is growing that contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is generally as effective as vaccination at stimulating our immune system to prevent the disease. But experts aren’t sure how long that protection lasts.
And West ignores a critical point: Natural immunity is available only to people who survive a COVID-19 infection. More than 700,000 in the U.S. people did not. And many of those who did survive are dealing with long-term health effects, meaning that their natural immunity to COVID-19 comes at a high personal cost.
"The whole point of vaccination against any infectious disease (measles, etc) is to provide immunity without the risks attendant to infection with the virus itself," said Dr. Arthur Reingold, an epidemiologist at University of California-Berkeley.
West is also ignoring the costs of a hospital stay for a person who contracts COVID-19 and needs to be treated for it. We previously found that the average hospital stay is around $17,000, although individual factors can cause the cost to swing widely.
"Why not promote protocols such as Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion therapy? Why not promote Budesonide nebulizer treatments? Why not promote healthy over the counter therapies such as zinc — which I take — D3, vitamin C, Hydroxychloroquine, and yes, Ivermectin?"
West uses the "why not" rhetorical construction to suggest that there’s no legitimate reason for public health officials not to promote these alternatives over vaccination. But there is a clear reason: None of these other protocols and drugs have been proven more effective than vaccines at preventing or treating COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription-only drug used to prevent and treat malaria. The FDA in 2020 revoked an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine as a remedy for COVID-19, finding that it was not effective in countering the coronavirus. The National Institutes of Health concluded that data is insufficient to recommend using vitamins to treat COVID-19.
In the United States, ivermectin is approved for some uses in humans, but not over the counter, and not to prevent or treat COVID-19. (The Food and Drug Administration has warned against self-medicating with an over-the-counter version of ivermectin intended for horses.)
The injected Regeneron antibodies can help prevent infection before it starts — essentially acting as a very short-term surrogate for vaccination, said Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at Texas A&M University. But the other treatments West suggests amount to "superstitious home remedies," Neuman said.
"There is nothing the average person would find in a pet store or mall vitamin shop that would be effective at preventing hospitalization or death from COVID-19," he said.
Besides, West’s prescription contradicts a basic tenet of health care: Prevention is better than a cure.
"Those of us in medicine and public health always think it is better to prevent life-threatening illnesses and injuries than to have to treat them," Reingold said.
Allen West, Tweets, Oct. 9, 2021
Allen West, Tweets, Oct. 10, 2021
Allen West, Tweets, Oct. 11, 2021
Allen West, Facebook video, Oct. 11, 2021
Austin American-Statesman, Allen West to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott in Republican primary for governor, July 4, 2021
Forbes, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Accessed Oct. 11, 2021
Regeneron, Annual report, 2020
Regeneron, Press release, Sept. 14, 2021
Health and Human Services, Monoclonal antibodies for high-risk COVID-19 positive patients, Accessed Oct. 12, 2021
PolitiFact, Allen West on the Truth-O-Meter, Accessed Oct. 12, 2021
PolitiFact, Firm led by top donor to Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis isn’t a major Regeneron investor, Aug. 19, 2021
PolitiFact, 10 types of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation swirling online, fact-checked, July 26, 2021
PolitiFact, Fact-checking DeSantis on COVID-19 natural immunity, Sept. 15, 2021
PolitiFact, No sign that the COVID-19 vaccines’ spike protein is toxic or ‘cytotoxic’ June 16, 2021
Email interview, Benjamin Neuman, Virologist, Texas A&M University, Oct. 12, 2021
Email interview, Dr. Arthur Reingold, epidemiologist at UC-Berkeley, Oct. 11, 2021