DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – While people with severe cases of COVID may often think of the emergency room as their first course of action, antibody therapies are also available to help alleviate symptoms quickly.
“These monoclonal antibodies are engineered in the test tube or manufactured specifically to attack the spike protein of SARS-CoV2, or COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein, M.D., patient safety officer for Kettering Health.
These antibodies, he said, mimic the ones the human body naturally makes to fight COVID. The antibody proteins then attach to the virus and block it from infecting cells and multiplying. While these treatments are available and can help reduce hospital stays due to COVID-19, Weinstein said the ever-changing nature of the virus could make getting it more difficult. In fact, he said many healthcare systems have already stopped using the first two versions of the treatment, as they had limited effectiveness against the omicron variant.
Instead, they are opting to use a new antibody treatment called Sotrovimab. The only issue is that it is currently in short supply.
“Because it’s newer and was much more recent to get approval, there just has not been enough time to manufacture huge amounts of this product,” Weinstein explained. “The entire state of Ohio only got a few thousand doses.”
As a result, medical professionals have had to set restrictions on who can receive the treatment, typically focusing on the elderly and others who are more likely to experience severe cases.
“So the National Institutes of Health have come out with tiered groupings of individuals who are at the highest risk, and the highest risk group includes people who have had lung transplants, some people who have leukemia or other types of malignancies and are on treatment, people with very late-stage AIDS and people who are on other types of treatment, mainly for cancer,” said Weinstein.
Pregnant women are also on that list of high-risk individuals, and Weinstein said this group currently accounts for the majority of the doses given at Kettering Health.
While the drug is used to treat COVID-19 in these and other high-risk individuals, some people who already have been diagnosed may still not qualify. According to the FDA, patients who “are hospitalized due to COVID-19, or who require oxygen therapy due to COVID-19, or who require an increase in baseline oxygen flow rate due to COVID-19 (in those on chronic oxygen therapy due to underlying non-COVID-19 related comorbidity)” cannot receive the treatment.
However, those who have been diagnosed and are interested in getting the treatment should talk to their healthcare providers before symptoms are out of control.
“Oftentimes [people] don’t feel really sick in the first few days of the illness and that’s actually the best time for these monoclonal antibodies to be used,” said Dr. Joe Morman, a family physician at Mercy Hospital. “We will often get a recall days later when they’re [in] day seven, eight, nine into the infection when they’re really feeling bad, but these therapies are not very effective that late in the disease.”
He added these therapies are not to be used after ten days of symptoms or infection and treatment within the first six days is preferable. And while the newest antibody treatment is effective at minimizing progressive illness caused by omicron, the delta variant and other previous strains of the virus, the therapy could change again as the virus evolves.
“We are sort of at the mercy of the manufacturer, the government and the Ohio Department of Health, and they’re constrained by the fact that there just is not very much of this antibody available right now due to the small amounts that have been manufactured,” said Weinstein. “We’re being led to believe that hopefully by March or so there will be much better supply. By that time probably, omicron will be gone and in our rearview mirror, but the more of this monoclonal antibody that we can get, the better.”