Harshbarger bill would allow states to get more monoclonal antibody doses, providers say they have enough

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A bill introduced last week by Rep. Diana Harshbarger aims to increase states’ supply of monoclonal antibody treatments after she heard reports of shortages in the Tri-Cities.

The Treatment Restoration for Emergency Antibody Therapeutics (TREAT) Act would allow states to buy monoclonal antibody treatments directly from the manufacturer.

The bill came in response to a federal change in how the treatments are distributed. On Sept.13, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services took over allocation of the treatment. It currently distributes doses to states based on active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Local treatment providers then order what they need from the state.

Harshbarger said the current allocation might not be enough for Tennessee.

“I’m not saying go out and hoard it, but let the state determine what they need,” Harshbarger said. “Don’t let the government intervene and say, ‘This is what your usage is, we’re just going to give you that much.'”

Harshbarger’s office said they heard from State of Franklin Healthcare Associates during the peak of the late-Summer COVID surge. A SoFHA spokesperson said the system’s order of monoclonal antibodies was delayed for two weeks and, once received, had only 50 percent of the doses requested.

WJHL asked if SoFHA is now receiving their requested amount of doses, but had not heard back.

Harshbarger said area hospitals need to have more than enough on hand to cover any potential uptick in cases.

“We don’t know if there will be another variant coming through or if we will need that at any certain point in time,” Harshbarger said. “If we need it, we need to have it then.”

Following the DHHS takeover of allocation, doses received by the State of Tennessee have dropped over 60 percent. 7,720 were received the week of Sept. 13, and only 3,040 were received this week.

But active COVID cases have dropped at an even greater rate – 77 percent during the same time period.

Providers of the treatment both large and small said they already have enough on hand to meet current demand.

Lisa Smithgall, chief nursing executive at Ballad Health, said the system has never had to turn away an eligible patient due to lack of supply.

“We’ve received everything that we’ve needed and we’ve not had a shortage of supply,” Smithgall said.

Ballad averaged about 200 doses of monoclonal antibodies received over the last few weeks. Smithgall said that is not always what Ballad ordered, but it is enough to cover demand.

Dr. Raymond Nash is the manager at West Towne Pharmacy in Johnson City. He said the current federal allocations are working.

“No problem getting inventory. It’s really based on what we’re seeing,” Nash said. “We can still pretty much order whatever we feel like we’re going to need.”

Nash said antibody treatments at the pharmacy have dropped significantly. He said the same amount of inventory that lasted him under a week during the peak of the surge now lasts him over a week and a half.

With demand becoming less of an issue, Smithgall said having a sufficient supply on hand is important because she’s seen improved outcomes in Ballad monoclonal antibody patients.

“Only five to six percent of the patients who receive the monoclonal antibodies actually get hospitalized,” Smithgall said.

She added that she expected to be able to meet demand if COVID cases rise again.

The treatments, although effective in preventing COVID hospitalization, are not authorized for everyone diagnosed with COVID. To be eligible for the treatment, COVID patients must have symptoms under 10 days and be immunocompromised.

Patients already hospitalized or on a ventilator, or weighing less than 88 pounds cannot receive the treatment.

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