REGIONAL- As the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant continues, a treatment to lessen the severity of the disease approved months ago is gaining increased attention and use.The use of …
REGIONAL- As the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant continues, a treatment to lessen the severity of the disease approved months ago is gaining increased attention and use.
The use of monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 infections gained widespread attention when they were administered to former President Donald Trump when he was hospitalized with the disease nearly a year ago.
But while the federal government purchased 1.5 million doses of the Regeneron version used to treat Trump and optioned to buy 1.1 million doses of a version produced by Eli Lilly, there was little use of the free treatments in the spring and early summer as COVID-19 cases dropped dramatically.
But ever since cases began to rise again, monoclonal antibody treatments have grown as well, although not for use by hospitalized patients like Trump. Based on the developing research base, the FDA has issued emergency use authorizations for monoclonal antibodies to be used within 10 days after the first symptoms of COVID-19 appear. This application decreases the severity of the disease and has proven effective in drastically reducing the likelihood of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
The treatment has become so prevalent that Twin Cities hospitals recently were booked solid for infusions of the monoclonal antibody “cocktail,” so called because the most-used Regeneron and Eli Lilly versions each contain two different forms of monoclonal antibodies. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported last week that Twin Cities residents were flocking to hospitals in greater Minnesota to receive treatments.
If any decide to travel as far as the North Country, they’ll find that the Ely-Bloomenson and Cook hospitals are both providing the intravenous treatments. However, they may also find there’s competition here, too, as the northern region continues to be one of St. Louis County’s least vaccinated areas with accompanying higher rates of COVID infection.
Tried and true
Those who believe that monoclonal antibodies are a novel new therapy developed specifically in response to the COVID-19 are almost half a century wrong. Monoclonal antibodies were first produced in 1975 and licensed for use in 1986. Since then, unique varieties have been developed to treat certain forms of cancer, chronic inflammatory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and infectious disease. Their use for treating COVID-19 is only the most recent and most visible use of the medical technology.
The word monoclonal gives a clue as to how they are developed. Unique white blood cells are cloned repeatedly to create monoclonal antibodies, which function in a manner that mimics the body’s natural immune response.
In the case of COVID-19, monoclonal antibodies work by attaching to the spike proteins of the coronavirus and its various strains. With their spike proteins disabled, the virus and variants lose the ability to attach to and invade human cells. As with vaccines, the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies varies somewhat with the type of strain. Regeneron has been the most robust in maintaining its edge against the delta variant, which currently accounts for 95 percent of the new cases in the U.S., but the others are also highly effective at reducing the severity of COVID infections.
The Minnesota Department of Health has issued the following guidelines for people to use to determine if they might be a candidate for monoclonal antibody treatment:
• You test positive for COVID-19.
• Your symptoms started less than 10 days ago.
• You are not hospitalized.
• If you have not been fully vaccinated and you have a weakened immune system
Individuals who believe they may qualify should consult directly with a health care professional to discuss their situation and determine their eligibility for a referral for treatment.
Appointments for monoclonal antibody treatments at Cook Hospital, in Cook, can be made by calling the Outpatient Services Department directly for assistance at 218-666-6247.
More information about monoclonal antibody treatments is available by contacting Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital pharmacists at 218-365-8770, according to EVCH communications team leader Jodi Martin. The hospital also provides the treatments for qualified individuals.