HIGH COUNTRY — Watauga Medical Center is offering Monoclonal Antibody Therapy to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in certain patients, but officials caution vaccines are still the best way to reduce the chances of severe illness, hospitalization or death.
Monoclonal Antibody Therapy are lab-produced molecules that help a body fight an illness and can restore, boost or imitate an immune system response to the virus by replacing natural antibodies, according to the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the therapy on May 26.
“We are infusing that here in the hospital for patients that are not hospitalized, but have tested positive, and if it’s been within a 10-day window of symptom onset and the patient meets the referral criteria for being high risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19,” said Sean Burroughs, director of pharmacy at ARHS.
The infusion of the antibodies takes place over 21 minutes with an IV drop of the medication. A patient has to stay for about an hour after they get the infusion to make sure there are no side effects, Burroughs said.
To get the treatment, a patient has to be referred to Watauga Medical Center by a primary care physician. Burroughs said that as of Sept. 1, about 40 patients have received the treatment at WMC during the approximately three weeks the hospital has offered it.
Burroughs said although they do have treatments for COVID-19, the vaccine is still the best way to prevent COVID-19 as data for the therapy shows that 45 patients need to be treated to prevent one hospitalization or death.
“The percentage of that is not great,” Burroughs said. “When you can prevent something rather than treat it, that’s always a better option because it’s not always going to work. There’s an opportunity for folks to not come down with the virus, whether it’s through vaccination — which is our best weapon right now — or social distancing and masking.”
High-risk adults ages 18 and older may be eligible for treatment through ARHS. High-risk factors include older age, being overweight, being pregnant, having diabetes and more. Monoclonal antibodies are not authorized for use in patients who are hospitalized due to COVID-19, who require oxygen therapy due to COVID-19, or require an increase in baseline oxygen flow rate due to COVID-19 in those on chronic oxygen therapy due to an underlying non-COVID-19 related condition.
“Most hospitals and health systems at this time are struggling with staffing — I know we are just like everybody else,” Burroughs said. “We’re doing the best that we can and opening (this treatment) up to a huge population of folks at this time is just (not) something that we (can) do.”
If someone is vaccinated and gets COVID-19, they are eligible for this treatment by referral. If someone is not vaccinated and receives this treatment, they cannot get vaccinated until 90 days after the treatment, Burroughs said.
Burroughs said there are a few other treatments outside of the monoclonal treatments, but they “aren’t great” for those who are hospitalized. One is Remdesivir, which Burroughs said does not show significant reduction in death, and the other is called Tocilizumab.
(“Tocilizumab) may reduce the risk of ventilation or death, but more studies are needed,” Burroughs said. “That one’s on shortage like a lot of medications are, which means that we can’t get enough of it to treat all the patients that we want to use it on here in the hospital.”
Other treatments include Dexamethasone, which studies have shown that when used in patients on a ventilator or on supplemental oxygen there was a significant reduction in death. Studies also showed that when used in mild cases there was not much benefit, according to ARHS.
If someone is not hospitalized with COVID-19, the treatments available are really about supportive care. Burroughs said there aren’t a lot of treatment options, but staying hydrated and resting is key.
“You can give them antipyretic to control their fever with acetaminophen or Tylenol or other fever reducers,” Burroughs said. “Then supportive medications for symptoms like cough suppressants, decongestants and vitamins.”
Lying on one’s stomach can also help support the lungs, according to ARHS.
At this time, no well-done studies have shown that Famotidine, ivermectin or garlic help with COVID-19, according to ARHS, which stated those are experimental treatments that continue to be researched.
Despite the few treatments available, Burroughs still urges people to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Even though the vaccine itself seems not to be quite as effective against the Delta variant at coming down with COVID-19, it’s still very effective at keeping people out of the hospital and keeping people and helping keep people alive,” Burroughs said.
More information on treatment options can be found at apprhs.org/covid-19-treatment-options/.