MORENO VALLEY, Calif. - Monoclonal antibody treatment has been difficult to get for many COVID-19 patients who’ve heard from their health providers that they are being offered under severe limitations.
"My hands are tied," were the words I heard from my own doctor when I first asked if this was an option in case I got sick, since my lungs have been compromised from being exposed to tuberculosis years ago. Despite going through the months-long treatment to prevent serious TB infections, my lungs show scars, and every time I get a bad cold and it goes to my lungs, things get scary.
Her words are echoed by medical teams all over, quoting from CDC guidelines saying the treatment Is available to people "who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19" starting with those "who are not fully vaccinated or not expected to mount an adequate immune response," like people with immunocompromising conditions, like cancers, organ recipients and other relatively serious factors.
"Why are we not making a valid treatment available to everyone," asks Diana Barrent, the founder of Survivor Corps, which has worked to make therapeutic treatments, including monoclonal antibody infusions, to COVID-19 patients.
It’s a valid question, with no simple answer.
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When the treatment was given emergency approval by the FDA, many doctors found that the infusions, if given early on in the infection, helped many people not get seriously sick, and avoid hospital stays. "If there is a treatment, why should I get a vaccine?" became the slogan of those hesitant to take vaccines, and soon states like Florida and Texas were demanding large amounts of the doses that are approved and allotted by the federal government. States like California, with high vaccination rates, got fewer doses.
The fact is, making the monoclonal antibodies is not cheap, and they have to match the particular variant affecting the population, which contributed to shortages. Soon, the FDA was mandating their use only for serious cases, and many fully vaccinated and boosted people who were infected with the Omicron variant were told it wasn’t available.
Meanwhile, hospitals were reporting that they were getting overrun with patients, many of whom could have easily not ended up in those hospitals, had they been given monoclonal antibodies at the onset of their infections BEFORE they got seriously sick (which is the only way monoclonal therapy works).
Now, the monoclonal antibody treatment clinic at Riverside University Health System Medical Center is putting out the word.
"We have the treatment, and despite the fact that you may have heard it doesn’t work, our strain is very effective for the present virus variants" says the chair of their Emergency Department, Dr. Michael Mesisca. "We want to make this available to people, even those vaccinated, who fall under the guidelines" he adds. It seems they are interpreting the guidelines much less strictly than other clinics I visited. We spoke to one patient who received the antibodies because his BMI was high.
Dr. Mesisca agrees with Barrent, wishing the guidelines were less stringent, so more people could get the treatment. Especially considering the fact that one of the motivations behind statewide limitations shutdowns and emergency orders were to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. At the same time, it’s the medical teams locally that make the decision as to who can get the treatment.
Monoclonal antibodies are not the first line of defense, and in no way replace vaccine, medical professionals say. "We want people to be vaccinated and boosted, because that already reduces the chances of serious illness, and keep in mind, that gives the monoclonal antibodies that much more of a chance to help," says Mesisca.
Berrent adds that the treatment should not be the first line of defense, but it should be available to everyone without politics getting involved. "It belies common sense that there is a treatment that can help ease the suffering of patients, help hospital capacity, and save lives, and our government is not putting serious money into its development," she said, especially with a virus that will probably remain part of our lives, as more variants surface.
If you want to find out more about the RUHS Medical Center Monoclonal clinic, give them a call at 951-486-6520. Your physician can also refer you to the clinic, which has appointments available. You can also check out survivorcorps.com
The organization represents one of the largest patient advocacy movements supporting, educating and mobilizing Covid-19 Survivors to support medical, scientific and academic research.
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