Monoclonal antibody treatment should not replace vaccinations, Tennessee doctors say

Local Coronavirus Coverage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Monoclonal antibody therapies have been key for patients fighting against severe illness or death after becoming COVID-19 positive.

The therapy has come under scrutiny due to more people needing the treatment as the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate remains one of the highest in the country and supplies are becoming limited.

Monoclonal antibodies are a synthetic protein that’s infused in patients via an IV and not a full-proof option for everyone.

“The antibodies [have] been shown in high-risk individuals. So, for folks who are truly at risk at getting severe disease, it decreases the rates of hospitalization up to 70 percent,” said Dr. Karen Bloch, Director of Vanderbilt’s Infusion Clinic. “That’s great, but 30 percent of folks despite the monoclonal antibody will still get sick enough that they require hospitalization.“

The treatment, which is being used under emergency use authorization, has shown to be effective.

“It is particularly helpful in folks who either haven’t been vaccinated or who may not have mounted an adequate antibody response because of problems. Underlying problems in their health might limit their immunity,” Bloch said.

However, antibody supplies have decreased in Tennessee as the Delta variant grips communities across the state.

The Department of Health announced the distribution of the treatment could be temporarily reduced prioritizing those who need it first.

“The supply of antibodies has become more limited, so there’s certain underlying medical conditions, certain patients who are immunocompromised, elderly patients,” Bloch said.

Doctors said in order for the treatment to be effective taking it sooner is better.

“That’s sometimes tough because a lot of times patients with onset of symptoms don’t get tested immediately, and it’s really not from data positive tests, it’s from date of onset of symptoms. So, sometimes it’s a little bit of a crunch trying to get folks in that 10-day window,” she said.

Doctors also said the monoclonal antibody therapies should not be used as a substitute for vaccination.

“They’re not interchangeable,” Bloch said. “We would not recommend counting on the antibody to protect against hospitalization. The vaccine is given truly to prevent infection or prevent symptoms of infection, so it’s given as a prophylactic agent.”

The treatment takes about two hours altogether.

“The product itself is infused over a 20 minute period. We monitor folks for an hour after the infusion is complete, and that’s because there is a small possibility of an allergic reaction,” Bloch explained.

Monoclonal antibody treatment locations can be found on the Tennessee Department of Health’s website, currently, the website list nearly 40 available places to get the antibody infusions across the state.

The treatment therapy is free paid for by the Federal government.

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