A drug that could protect high-risk Covid-19 patients from developing acute illness is sitting on shelves fresh as a record number of people are hospitalized in the U.S.
Thursday, public health officials at the national and state rates plead with all the country to take advantage of its vast supply of monoclonal antibody treatments, the only available therapy that may possibly keep patients out of the hospital.
"This is the first time throughout the pandemic that I can remember when our resources far exceed need," Dr. William Fales, medical director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday during a media briefing organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fales estimated that just 10 percent of Covid-19 patients in the country that are eligible for the treatment had received it.
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made drugs intended to mimic natural antibodies to SARS-CoV-2the virus which leads to Covid-19. They are recommended for those who are at high risk of getting very sick from the virus, for example anybody over age 65 and individuals with underlying health conditions.
At least one research revealed that the therapy can lower the total amount of virus in a person's system. Most reports are anecdotal.
Fales said his team observed that hospitalization rates throughout both weeks following monoclonal antibody therapy appears to be approximately 5 percent.
Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer in the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, proposed Wednesday through a media call that utilization of monoclonal antibodies has eased breeds on the hospital system.
Thomas stated his strategy"ramped up" use of monoclonal antibodies quickly. "I'd like to think it's why our hospitalizations have come down," he explained.
Dr. Jonathan Parsons, head of the monoclonal antibody treatment attempts at the Ohio State centre, stated,"Anybody who has tested through our swabbing program is entered into an electronic health record." Parsons' staff then contacts the primary care providers for patients who test positive, asking whether they'd like to refer patients to get monoclonal antibodies.
New Jersey's state epidemiologist, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, said monoclonal antibodies may have played a role in a recent leveling from the nation's Covid-19 hospitalizations. "It is well worth the effort to get it," Bresnitz said during a press briefing Thursday.
So why are not people getting it?
In other words, too little time, resources and awareness.
Obstacles to government
Monoclonal antibodies have to be given soon after a individual has tested positive. "These medications work best when given early," Surgeon General Jerome Adams said during Thursday's briefing.
But with testing still lagging across much of the nation, many patients must wait several days to find out whether, in reality, they have been infected. Just awaiting the evaluation results can push patients past time they might qualify for treatment.
That barrier, however, should not be a factor in getting monoclonal antibodies, said Dr. John Redd, the chief medical officer to the office of the assistant secretary of health and human services for response and preparedness.
"Obtaining these therapeutics doesn't require having a PCR test," Redd said during Thursday's briefing.
Rather, Redd said,"a quick test is quite appropriate." Rapid tests can yield results within moments, however they have greater degrees of false negatives.
Those on the front lines of treating Covid-19 patients say it is not that easy.
Monoclonal antibodies are given orally, in an hourlong extract, with an appointment lasting three to four hours. Since Covid-19 patients are infectious, they must be separated from other vulnerable individuals who need outpatient infusions, such as those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said some patients may decline the treatment only because they're feeling better. But that may be a mistake. It has become clear that some patients may feel better before they abruptly get worse.
For many others, logistical problems get in the way.
Public transport and ride-shares, for example Uber, are out of the question for those who have active Covid-19. Additionally, Chin-Hong stated, some patients just can't manage three hours from their day away from work or family obligations.
Chin-Hong quotes that his health system has used less than 20 percent of those monoclonal antibodies in stock.
What is more, special infusion facilities have to be installed and staffed. Some say it is an irrational demand on health systems that are already stretched.
"When we had this outbreak under control, we could set up extract centers. We can set up testing. But we don't have those tools," said Dr. Pieter Cohen, who is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a doctor with the Cambridge Health Alliance Respiratory Clinic near Boston.
"We're completely swamped with ill individuals," Cohen said.
Chin-Hong agreed. "These patients are generally nicely, and you want to focus on the sick patients," he explained.
"I feel that's where people's mindsets are -- particularly in California right now," he said. The country has experienced a spike in Covid-19 instances of late. From the state's most populous county, Los Angeles, 10 people on average test positive for the virus each minute.
The hurdles are not lost on some of those leading the national response. "We recognize the healthcare system is very worried," Dr. Janet Woodcock, therapeutics cause Operation Warp Speed, said during Thursday's networking telephone.
"On the other hand, if we do not do this, the likelihood is that we will have even more overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare employees," Woodcock said, adding that her team feels that attempts to set up such infusion centers are"worth it" to decrease the burdens on health care systems.
Some standalone kidney dialysis centers across the country have declared that they'll begin administering monoclonal antibodies to Covid-19 patients throughout alterations set up for only those individuals. Covid-19 has been shown to be especially dire for individuals with kidney disease.
Another factor may be lack of awareness, among both patients and providers, that the treatments are readily available.
During a press briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar set the onus for pursuing monoclonal antibodies on sufferers, who"should be asking their doctors or healthcare providers the reason why they aren't being supplied these antibody therapies."
However, HHS' online tool provides little aid to those trying to find monoclonal antibody resources. The website has no data for people in at least 31 states, including Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Washington.
A spokesperson for HHS stated Thursday that the staff is working"as rapidly as possible" to upgrade the website and that it expects more resources available by next week.