By Doreen Gentzler and Patricia Fantis
Monoclonal antibody treatment is free and available to anyone over the age of 12
Monoclonal antibody infusions are treatments that can greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, research says, but public health officials say the infusions are currently underutilized.
“We have the medication. It has been shown to be really, really useful and really improves symptoms,” said Dr. Tara Saggar, an internist with MedStar Health.
Saggar said the treatment gives the body the antibodies it doesn’t have and allows them to fight off the infection.
She has seen the benefits of monoclonal antibodies first-hand, and new research shows it can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by up to 85%.
“It’s a infusion to treat patients who are positive with COVID, who have some mild to moderate symptoms, and it’s meant to be used kind of early in their disease to prevent them from progressing or from needing hospitalization,” Saggar said.
Timing is key, Saggar said. Patients have a small window to get the treatment once they’ve received a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Because the earlier we can get the monoclonal to them, the better they’ll do,” she said. “So we can actually give it within 10 days of them developing symptoms. But ideally, we want it within the first four or five days. That’s where we can really say before the cough gets worse, before the fevers get higher, let’s try to get this, these fighter cells in you so that you can fight the infection off yourself.”
The treatment received national attention when former President Donald Trump received it, and, more recently, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Now, the FDA has authorized the use of Regeneron for emergency use in adults and children over the age of 12.
But Saggar said not everyone is a candidate.
“They also have to have some sort of a risk factor. So perhaps they’re over 65. Perhaps they have diabetes. There’s a whole, the whole list of criteria that their health care provider can talk them through,” she said.
The treatment worked for Peggy and Michael Alexander, who were among the first in the D.C. region to receive monoclonal antibodies days after being diagnosed with COVID last Thanksgiving.
“If we didn’t take it, if we didn’t take advantage of it, who knows what would have happened to us?” Peggy Alexander said.
The married couple from Montgomery County are in their 70s, making them prime candidates for the treatment. They didn’t hesitate to do it.
“We sat for about an hour with the needle in us and we both were reading and then
they waited, made us wait another hour to make sure we had no reactions,” Michael Alexander said.
Now, across the region and the country, more places are offering monoclonal antibodies as the delta variant spreads.
Saggar says it can be administered two ways.
“It can be an infusion that’s administered over 20 minutes into an IV bag, or it can actually be a series of four injections given one right after the other, both take roughly about the same amount of time,” she said.
“It kept us from going in the hospital, or getting sicker. And there was nothing to it,” Michael Alexander said.
The monoclonal antibody treatment is free and available to anyone over the age of 12, regardless of vaccination status.
MedStar Health offers the treatment at its emergency departments systemwide, in addition to the infusion center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.