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Health

New monoclonal antibodies could prevent COVID-19 for those with vulnerable immune systems

An illustration of antibodies attacking a coronavirus particle.
An illustration of antibodies attacking a coronavirus particle.

Monoclonal antibodies have been used as an initial treatment for COVID-19. The infusion therapy is available at several state-run sites and more than 30 hospitals in Idaho, but requires a doctor's referral and not everyone is eligible.

Now, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says new antibody treatments could help prevent disease in the state’s most vulnerable populations, such as those who have cancer or immunocompromised patients.

In a presentation Dec. 17 to the Central District Board of Health, State Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn explained that a newly approved antibody cocktail can be given to people to prevent COVID-19 before being exposed.

“It's a combination of two long-acting monoclonal antibodies," she told board members. The product is called EvuSheld, made by AstraZeneca. The Food and Drug Administration authorized it for emergency use Dec. 10.

Trials have been promising, Hahn said. "They've already shown at least six months of protection, and they think it might be up to 12 months.”

That’s great news for those with cancer or immunocompromised patients, whose bodies typically can’t build full protection from the vaccine. The treatment is also meant for those who can't get the COVID-19 vaccines due to potential allergic reactions.

Hahn said the state is working with Health and Human Services for an initial shipment, which could arrive in Idaho the week before Christmas. But she's not sure of the timing just yet, and the treatment will be hard to come by.

"Once this is available, we'll get maybe enough to treat 300 people," she said.

State Health and Welfare is working to prioritize the most at-risk patients for this treatment. Hahn said some promising antiviral medications are also coming, which lab tests have shown to be effective against the omicron variant of COVID-19.