Access to monoclonal antibody treatment varies as supply remains low

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been almost a year since some sites started offering monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients, but supplies remain limited across North Carolina.

"It's a really limited resource so we get 7,400 doses every week to use for the entire state. And we're getting 4,800 positive cases every day. So it's nowhere near the right amount," explained Dr. Shannon Dowler, NC Medicaid's Chief Medical Officer.

This limited supply means a limited number of sites across the state, which state health officials said are creating barriers for some patients.

"We're seeing particularly the Latinx population has slightly less access to it, and then we're seeing in the rest of the population," Dowler said.

Dowler said there are about 170 sites offering this treatment across the state and the sites that do exist have treated patients who drove from hours away.

Adding transportation as a barrier could mean patients just don't get treatment, which could mean their case becomes severe enough for hospitalization.

To help combat some of these inequities and tackle these barriers, the state partnered with FEMA to create five sites.

"We saw that not every county in the state had access, as a matter of fact, there were whole areas where we weren't seeing monoclonal antibodies given, so we deployed FEMA to specific places in the state to increase geographic equity to monoclonal antibodies," Dowler said.

One of those sites is in Smithfield. The pop-up site has been operating for around two weeks and serves around 10 to 13 people a day.

When the site first opened, the nearby hospital was treating around 84 COVID-19 patients a day.

Ruth Marler, the Johnston Health chief operating officer, accredits the monoclonal antibody sites as one of the factors that helped the area get hospitalizations under control.

"We did request a site to come here because our positivity rate was high in this county and our vaccine rate is lower than we'd like it to be and as a result of that we really felt like we needed to change the strategy to really help those that were positive to get treatment to prevent hospitalization," Marler said.

Now the site throughout Johnston County has serviced people from as far away as Charlotte.

Marler explained patients have a limited window to receive treatment so even if they have a site closer to them, they might have to wait multiple days.

Dowler said increasing the number of sites might not be a feasible option if supply doesn't increase.

"We're getting so few doses so finding providers who can just give one or two doses, versus a site and dedicate all their time and attention to giving monoclonal antibody, we get much more efficiency, and that sort of larger consolidated focused effort," she explained.

State officials working to tackle inequities in access similar to how they have with COVID-19 testing and vaccines.

"We're partnering with community trusted community members, organizations that are trusted in historically marginalized populations to do everything we can to raise equity and get everyone the same access to services," Dowler said.

Beyond transportation, officials say they are still working on educating the public on what monoclonal antibody treatment is and how patients can access it.

Officials agreeing the number one tool to fight COVID-19 remains vaccinations. Increasing vaccinations is another solution in tackling barriers to treatment as demand will decrease.

To find a monoclonal antibody site near you, head to https://covid.infusioncenter.org/ and call 1-877-332-6585 (English) or 1-877-366-0310 (Spanish).

More information on monoclonal antibody treatment can be found online: here.
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