Individuals hoping to receive outpatient monoclonal antibody infusion therapy to treat COVID-19 may be in for a disappointment.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has announced a pause in the distribution of the two popular therapeutics that were being used at Morris Hospital to prevent hospitalization in high risk individuals due to data showing they are not effective against the now-dominant Omicron variant.
Another monoclonal antibody therapeutic, sotrovimab, has remained effective against the Omicron variant, but it is now both in high demand and in low supply. While Morris Hospital has received a very limited supply of sotrovimab, future allotments still remain uncertain.
Prior to the Omicron variant, Morris Hospital was administering as many as 4 to 6 monoclonal antibody infusions per day when supply was at its peak.
“It’s disheartening considering the high rate of infection and hospitalizations,” says Alyssa Knoderer, pharmacy director at Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers. “The reality right now is that we have very, very few doses available due to the significant demand because there are so many people who are COVID-positive. There’s just less overall to go around.”
The monoclonal antibody infusion delivers a neutralizing antibody medicine containing man-made antibodies that are similar to the antibodies of patients who recovered from COVID-19. Since December 2020, it has been given to high risk patients at Morris Hospital in an effort to minimize hospitalizations.
Patients eligible for treatment have mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection and meet specific criteria that makes them at higher risk for severe illness.
In addition, those being considered for monoclonal antibody infusion must be able to be scheduled for infusion as soon as possible after testing positive for COVID-19 and within 10 days of symptom onset. Hospitalized patients and those requiring oxygen therapy are unable to receive the treatment.
While monoclonal antibody infusion has been an important tool to help prevent hospitalization in high risk individuals, Knoderer emphasizes that it is not an alternative to getting vaccinated. She believes this point is of even greater importance considering the infusion is in such short supply.
“Vaccination is always the best option in the fight against COVID-19,” Knoderer says. “It’s the safest and most effective method against severe illness and hospitalization.”
Among other approved treatments, one encouraging development came in December when the FDA gave emergency-use authorization of two oral antiviral medications that aim to reduce hospitalizations. But Knoderer says many unknowns are still left to be answered about these medications both with regards to distribution and eligibility due to potential drug interactions and other risk factors.
“It’s very difficult to treat COVID,” Knoderer says. “It’s just a really tough situation now with so many people being COVID-positive and low vaccination rates. People who are unwilling to get vaccinated are putting a strain on every resource we have – people, medications, supplies. It’s straining literally everything that we have.”
Morris Hospital’s COVID hospitalizations have been above 30 patients each day since December 3. The only other time COVID hospitalizations have been above 30 patients since the start of the pandemic was over a 6-day period in November 2020. Today marks the 35th consecutive day that Morris Hospital has had more than 30 hospitalized COVID patients.