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Oregon doctors using monoclonal antibodies to treat some COVID-19 patients

Monoclonal antibody therapy received emergency use authorization from the FDA in May.

Posted: Sep 17, 2021 2:35 PM
Updated: Sep 17, 2021 7:04 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- Multiple medical facilities across the state have begun using monoclonal antibody therapy to treat some COVID-19 patients.

It's a treatment that's received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to prevent severe illness in high-risk individuals.

The FDA has approved the treatment for two groups of people. The first are those 12 and older who have tested positive for the virus and are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19, the FDA said. The treatment cannot be given to anyone who is currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The second group are high-risk people who have been exposed to the virus and are not fully vaccinated, or are vaccinated but also immunocompromised, according to the FDA.

While doctors say the treatment will likely work in those who do not fall into these groups, limited supplies and growing demand for the treatment among medical facilities across the country have prevented access from being granted to a wider range of people.

"The monoclonal infusion is meant to help your immune system recognize the infection faster and control it faster," said Dr. Brenda Ormesher, an infectious disease physician with PeaceHealth.

Jack Hannigan received the treatment after testing positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago. He was fully vaccinated, but his age places him at higher risk for severe infection.

"It consisted of an IV and about 20 minutes of monoclonal antibody infusion, about 10 minutes of a saline flush of your vein and then one hour of monitoring," Hannigan said.

Hannigan said the procedure wasn't painful.

"It's pretty simple except for finding a vein in a guy my age, and the gal did a good job of it," Hannigan said.

The day after getting the treatment, Hannigan said his symptoms worsened slightly, but he felt better by the next day. This is common for recipients of this treatment, Ormesher said.

According to Ormesher, the treatment is 70% effective at reducing hospitalization and/or death. She said it could be dangerous for those who are already hospitalized to receive the treatment because it temporarily worsens symptoms before clearing them up.

"If you have more severe symptoms and we cause this large inflammatory reaction, you can actually get sicker and then have complications from that," Ormesher said.

Demand for the treatment is skyrocketing nationwide, prompting a possible shortage. Oregon has received 1,200 doses of casirivimab/imdevimab (RegenCOV) and 140 doses of bamlanivimab/etesevimab, the Oregon Health Authority said.

The state is scheduled to receive a weekly allocation from the federal government. OHA says it's expecting a limited supply from the federal government and delays in shipping from the distributor. The state's weekly allocation is dependant on the amount of treatment medical facilities report they have utilized the previous week, according to OHA. That's why OHA is encouraging all providers to submit timely and accurate reports.

Ormesher warned the infusion does not protect against the virus longterm and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

"The monoclonal doesn't last forever, so after 90 days on the infusion, it is essential to receive vaccination," Ormesher said.

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