A key treatment option for those who get mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms is growing in use, health care professionals said during a media conference Friday.
The treatment is monoclonal antibodies infusion.
Basically, the therapy reduces the likelihood of a patient experiencing severe effects of COVID-19 that can place them in a hospital, perhaps on a ventilator or even death from complications of the virus, health care officials said.
Karen Ryan, her sister and her mother are close. They enjoy spending all their time together.
“The demand for monoclonal antibodies therapy has more than quadrupled in the last three weeks,” said Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer. “We now have 45 sites able to perform the treatment.”
The three larger health care systems in and near Somerset County — UPMC Somerset, Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown and Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center in Windber — all perform the treatment.
Monoclonal antibodies therapy involves one hour sitting quietly in a comfortable armchair while a one-time intravenous infusion involves placing a needle in a vein so that the medicine can drip through an IV into the body, according to participants of the treatment.
The infusion takes an hour.
After the IV is removed, patients must wait for an hour so health care workers can monitor them for any side effects before sending them home.
How does it work? Antibodies are proteins made by the body’s immune system that fight off infections, including infections caused by viruses. A body can remember how to make antibodies if exposed to the same germ again.
This is where monoclonal antibodies come into play. The medicine attach to the spike protein that sticks out of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. By doing so the monoclonal antibodies can block the virus’s ability to enter cells — and slow down the infection, according to the UPMC website.
“We need to be cautious,” said Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer at UPMC Senior Communities. “While antibody response is there, we do not know how good it is or how long it will last.”
But the response is favorable, he said.
Similarly, a little more than 50% of the individuals who agreed to be part of a treatment trial and who have certain blood cancers have produced testable antibodies, which is promising, according to Dr. Ghady Haidar, a transplant infectious diseases physician at UPMC.
If someone has blood cancer and is over 12-years-old, they would more than likely qualify for the treatment, as would people with other cancers, HIV, organ transplants and autoimmune conditions, he said.
The treatment itself does not replace receiving a vaccine, according to the health care professionals.
And the push is on to vaccinate anyone who wants it.
The effort has produced more than 364,000 shots in arms for COVID-19 across the western region of Pennsylvania, Minnier said.
“We have provided 40,000 doses alone last week,” she said. “This was really fantastic.”
More drive-through clinics are planned, as are other vaccine events throughout the region.
“We do need to alert the world that we are not fully protected and take precautions,” she said. “Get your vaccine. They are safe. They are effective. They work.”