Antibody treatments help reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations

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In South Carolina, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have begun to decline, in part because of the purposeful prioritization of high-risk individuals in the state’s vaccination plan, as well as the success of the state’s monoclonal antibody program.

While monoclonal antibody treatments are currently only approved for emergency use, data shows they help reduce hospitalizations and emergency room visits due to COVID-19. State health officials estimate that well over 1,000 hospital admissions have been avoided and more than 100 COVID-19-related deaths have been prevented in South Carolina due to monoclonal antibody treatments.

Monoclonal antibodies are a type of treatment doctors have been using for COVID-19 patients since November 2020, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorizations for two types of monoclonal antibody treatments: bamlanivimab and casirivimab plus imdevimab. These antibodies work by directly blocking the effect of the COVID-19 virus in patients that are already infected. More than 9,500 South Carolinians have received monoclonal antibody treatments.

“Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-designed antibodies that can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, and can help your immune system get rid of it,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, DHEC’s immunization medical consultant. “Health care providers typically use these treatments for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms but who are at high risk for developing severe complications from the virus.”

While the federal government recently announced it was suspending the distribution of bamlanivimab because COVID-19 variants were resistant to bamlanivimab alone, other monoclonal antibody treatments are showing effectiveness against variant strains of the virus. Public health officials in this country around the world are continuing to learn more about recently identified COVID-19 variants.

“Even as more and more people are receiving their COVID-19 vaccines, monoclonal antibody treatments are still an important treatment option, especially as variants become more prevalent,” said Dr. Rick Foster, DHEC Public Health Consultant. “We are continuing to actively support existing monoclonal antibody treatment sites and we’re working to add more sites across the state that offer this outpatient infusion therapy. This treatment has been very effective in reducing risk for more severe illness and hospitalization in high risk patients with symptomatic COVID-19.”

Doctors determine whether a monoclonal antibody treatment is appropriate for a patient after the patient is first diagnosed with COVID-19. The sooner a high-risk individual who has tested positive begins receiving the treatment, the more successful it is in reducing the patient’s symptoms from COVID-19.

Recently, a private pediatric practice in Charleston County treated two high-risk adolescent COVID-19 patients with monoclonal antibodies. Because current COVID-19 vaccines aren’t recommended for anyone under the age of 16, monoclonal antibody treatment is an essential resource in treating high-risk children and teenagers who can’t protect themselves by way of vaccination.

The treatment is a single-dose IV infusion, meaning the patient receives their full dose of the antibody treatment in one sitting.

DHEC is working with partners to expand the number of monoclonal antibody infusion locations in the state, and the agency is also reaching out to providers that offer home infusions to expand this treatment, at a doctor’s recommendation, to homebound individuals. DHEC maintains a map of locations currently offering this treatment, and has developed a web-based application to assist in the screening and timely referral of patients that are eligible for this treatment. However, it’s important to remember that monoclonal antibody treatment must be recommended by a healthcare professional; an individual can’t simply show up at one of these locations without a referral.

A health care location interested in becoming a monoclonal antibody infusion site should contact covid19drug@dhec.sc.gov.

For the latest COVID-19 information, visit scdhec.gov/COVID19.