Local hospitals providing monoclonal antibody treatments to help fight COVID-19
IDAHO FALLS — As hospitals continue to come near or reach capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, local medical professionals say there’s a drug that can help with that problem.
Local hospitals such as Mountain View, Idaho Falls Community and Madison Memorial offer outpatient monoclonal antibody treatments. The treatment was designed to keep people from “progressing to severe COVID and getting admitted to the hospital,” according to Jacob Cooley, Assistant Director of Pharmacy Outpatient Services who’s over Mountain View infusions.
“This is the same kind of an antibody your body would make to the virus, but this one was made in a lab,” Mountain View Hospital’s Director of Pharmacy Whitney Cooley explained. “In a lab, they were able to identify very good targets for antibodies to the coronavirus. This has two different antibody types in it … to try and help us make sure we’re covering the variants that have come out.”
Madison Memorial Hospital’s Director of Pharmacy Dorsie Sullenger told EastIdahoNews.com the most common antibody medicine being used is from a company called Regeneron. He said the medicine — Casirivimab and Imdevimab — has not been approved but has been authorized for emergency use by the FDA.
The treatment is done through one IV infusion, typically over 30 minutes to one hour, according to Sullenger.
“There are some side effects,” Sullenger noted. “There are the usual side effects like nausea, vomiting, dizziness and sometimes … they might have an allergic reaction to that drug, but most the reactions are quite mild.”
To receive the treatment, it starts with an order from a doctor. At this point, a person has either tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild to moderate symptoms or has come in contact with somebody who has COVID.
Sullenger said the quicker a diagnosed COVID person receives the treatment — which is after positive COVID-19 test results are confirmed and within 10 days of symptom onset — the “more effective it’s going to be.”
“We look at their criteria and make sure they meet qualifications and high-risk factors. Then they are scheduled and come in,” Trecia Trost, Nursing Supervisor at Mountain View Hospital said. “(High-risk factors include) Obesity, immunosuppressed, heart disease, COPD, asthma in children, pregnancies, diabetes, elderly over 65. We have a range of age 12 to 17 that has high-risk factors.”
The treatment can also be given to people who are vaccinated but get a breakthrough COVID infection and meet qualifications and high-risk factors. Whitney said the treatment can’t be used as a substitute for the vaccine because there’s not enough of “the drug on hand as we have of the vaccine.” Instead, she said, it’s meant for breakthrough infections.
“There are a percentage of patients who will not mount antibodies that are effective after vaccination,” Whitney explained. “We can give you the vaccine but that doesn’t mean that everybody is going to get an adequate immune response and there are these risk factors to having a less effective immune response.”
There are currently 32 providers who are using monoclonal antibodies in Idaho, a Mountain View Hospital news release states. Between Idaho Falls Community Hospital and Mountain View, which started providing this outpatient treatment in Nov. 2020, the two have given more than 700 doses. Jacob said Mountain View plans to open another monoclonal antibody treatment facility in Blackfoot.
In Rexburg, Madison Memorial also gave its first monoclonal antibody infusion in Nov. 2020 and has since given over 270 infusions, according to Sullenger.
Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Coleen Niemann said EIRMC is providing monoclonal antibody infusions for emergency room patients who test positive in the ER, and who meet criteria set by the FDA for the treatment. Niemann added that EIRMC does not do monoclonal antibody infusions on an outpatient basis or for someone who has an order from a physician.
“The first choice is your vaccine. This (antibody treatment) isn’t your first choice,” Sullenger said. “If you come down COVID positive and you’re still in the mild stages of it, this is an excellent thing to help keep you out of the hospital.”
The government provides the medicine for free, but there are costs associated with administering it. Mountain View and Idaho Falls Community Hospital bill $500 and Madison Memorial charges between $500 and $600, but what a patient will pay out of pocket depends on their health insurance coverage.