What are Monoclonal Antibody Treatments?
Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. People who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to get COVID-19. The vaccine also keeps them from getting seriously sick or dying if they catch the virus. But for those who do get COVID-19 — regardless of vaccination status — there’s good news. COVID-19 treatment options have improved dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic.
One type of available treatment is called monoclonal antibody treatment. It can prevent someone from getting hospitalized or even dying from COVID-19. But they need to act fast! Monoclonal antibodies must be given within 10 days of getting symptoms to work best. So, it’s important to get tested right away if symptoms develop. If you do test positive, your doctor can help you decide if this treatment is right for you.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that help jumpstart your immune system so you can fight off a COVID-19 infection. They can be given by a shot or an IV infusion.
“These are synthetic antibodies that stimulate your body’s own immune system,” says Dr. Bob Lutz, Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Medical Advisor. “The whole idea behind monoclonal antibodies is that they get your body ramped up a little faster to fight COVID-19.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization for several monoclonal antibody treatments. This is because some treatments work better for certain variants of the virus. The FDA currently recommends the REGEN-COV™ and Sotrovimab monoclonal antibodies. These two treatments work very well against the variants here in Washington.
Studies show that the treatments successfully fight the virus and prevent serious illness.
“In the trials, they had very good outcomes, very low rates of hospitalization,” says Dr. Lutz. “Overall, the outcomes were much better than for those who did not receive the treatment.”
In some cases, people may qualify for monoclonal antibodies after exposure to COVID-19, even if they haven’t tested positive yet. REGEN-COV™ may be used to prevent severe illness in people with compromised immune systems if they were in contact with someone who tested positive.
What should I know about getting monoclonal antibody treatment?
Monoclonal antibody therapies can treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and children 12 and older (must weigh at least 88 lbs.), who are at high risk for developing severe illness. Some fully vaccinated people may even qualify for antibody treatment if they are in a high-risk category. Regardless of vaccination status, timing is important. Once someone is hospitalized or needs oxygen therapy due to COVID-19, they are no longer eligible to receive monoclonal antibody treatments. So, check with your doctor right away to decide if this treatment is right for you.
The federal government provides some monoclonal antibody treatments for free. Depending on insurance coverage, some may need to pay an administration fee. This is to cover the costs of giving the treatment, not for the antibodies. As always, check with your insurance provider to learn more about treatment costs for your specific plan, first. For people with Medicare and Medicaid, the cost of administering the treatment should be covered.
Monoclonal antibody success in Alaska
Elsewhere in the country, monoclonal antibody treatments have become a powerful tool that’s helping limit the need for hospitalizations. This is particularly the case in remote communities, including some villages in Alaska.
Remote parts of Alaska and many Alaska Native communities don’t have hospitals. So, the state encouraged pharmacies and clinics to give monoclonal antibodies to people who are vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. Alaska also sent rapid response teams to isolated villages to offer the treatments to people during outbreaks.
Coleman Cutchins is the lead pharmacist for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. He says monoclonal antibodies have made a big difference.
“I can really tell the difference between the number of people we have to medevac out when we use monoclonal antibodies and when we don’t,” Cutchins said. “I knew this was going to be a good tool in our state which is so medically vulnerable.”
The success in Alaska shows how important and life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments can be, especially in areas with limited medical resources.
So, the bottom line is this: if you test positive for COVID-19, ask your doctor if monoclonal antibody treatments are right for you. But remember, you will still need to protect others by isolating until your symptoms go away. Make sure to follow DOH guidance on what to do if you have COVID-19, even if you get antibody treatment.
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Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 12 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.
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Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.