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News >  Health

Monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 treatment are in short supply

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 30, 2021

A bed lies ready for a monoclonal antibody treatment patient Wednesday at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d'Alene.   (COLIN TIERNAN/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A bed lies ready for a monoclonal antibody treatment patient Wednesday at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d'Alene.  (COLIN TIERNAN/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Monoclonal antibodies, used to treat some people at high-risk of developing severe illness when they test positive for COVID-19, are in short supply nationwide.

Recently, the federal government told states they would have to order the treatment for providers in their state instead of hospitals ordering directly from the manufacturers.

“The demand is higher than what we have the allocation for, for this kind of therapy,” Washington state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said on Wednesday.

The Department of Health is working on a process to prioritize which regions and health care providers should get the treatment, basing allocation on disease burden, hospitalization rates and usage, health officials said Wednesday. The federal government is distributing the treatment to states based on this criteria as well.

Monoclonal antibodies are under an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The treatment is recommended for use in people with underlying health conditions who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and are at high risk for developing severe disease or being hospitalized. The treatment is best administered soon after the onset of symptoms, either via infusion or injections.

Health officials urged the public to not rely on this treatment if they get sick, and instead to get vaccinated. This comes just a day after Idaho Gov. Brad Little also touted the benefits of monoclonal antibodies, while urging people to avoid needing them in the first place by getting vaccinated.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is now fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in people 16 and older. All three available COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping people from being hospitalized for the virus. In Washington state, the vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

“Monoclonal therapy is good, but getting vaccinated is orders of magnitude better at preventing you from getting sick from COVID,” Dr. Dan Getz, chief medical officer at Providence Spokane, told reporters on Wednesday.

Monoclonal antibodies are available in Spokane County only by doctor referral.

MultiCare is offering the antibodies at MultiCare Rockwood Clinic with a doctor referral.

Providence is offering monoclonal antibodies in emergency departments at both Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital, as well as in one outpatient clinic. Providence requires a physician referral for this treatment. So far, Providence has given about 200 Spokane-area patients this treatment and patients have reported feeling better after, according to a Providence spokesperson.

With high demand for the treatment nationwide and the Department of Health now having to prioritize where those monoclonal antibodies will go in the state, relying on this treatment is not a replacement for the COVID-19 vaccine, providers also said.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 240 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and five additional deaths.

There have been 847 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County.

There are 182 people hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District reported 112 new COVID-19 cases in addition to 1,605 backlogged cases and five additional deaths.

There have been 480 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 119 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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