'Like a fire extinguisher': Monoclonal antibody treatments help keep COVID-19 hospitalizations down

Monoclonal antibody treatments are saving lives from COVID-19 and helps keep patients out of Triangle hospitals.

Doctors are infusing newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients with antibodies that have been copied from a survivor.

These antibodies attack the onset of the virus -- making it essentially harmless.

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"It's almost like a fire extinguisher. You want it early on. A fire extinguisher doesn't help you when the fire is raging," said Dr. David Wohl, professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at UNC Health.

So far, UNC Health has provided the treatment to more than 1,000 patients since the FDA approved two versions back in November.

"It mimics the immune systems natural response if you were to get COVID. It helps you build up that immunity quicker," said Brittany Komansky, Director of Emergency Services for Wake Med.

FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

At WakeMed in Raleigh, more than 500 patients have received the treatment, some have traveled as far a Charlotte and Wilmington.

"We are giving between 8 to 12 times a days on average. The highest I've seen given a day is about 16 times," said Komansky.

She said most insurance has covered the treatment at 100 percent. The Cares Act has helped fund the treatment as well, which allows it to be mostly free to the uninsured.
The hospital system partners with a service that offers transportation to those with limited access to a treatment site.

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Doctors said patients 65 and older who have recently tested positive for COVID-19, and have underlying, severe health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, qualify for the treatment.

Those who qualify for the treatment should contact their health provider to get a referral.

Dr. David Wohl said side effects are rare, but can include itchiness or an allergic reaction, and can be treated with medication.

Wohl said right now monoclonal antibodies don't appear to work with the new variant of COVID-19, originating from South Africa.

Which is why he says it's important for people to ultimately get the vaccine when it's their turn.

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