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Health

Fewer approved monoclonal antibody brands means treatment is even more scarce

A sign outside in a parking lot reads, "monoclonal antibody site."
Marta Lavandier
/
AP
A monoclonal antibody treatments center is closed after federal health regulators found the treatment ineffective against treating the widespread COVID-19 omicron variant, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to fight the decision by federal regulators. The treatment had become a centerpiece of DeSantis' coronavirus response as he resisted vaccine mandates and other safety measures. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

One of the most promising treatment options for people who catch COVID-19 are monoclonal antibodies – an infusion of lab-made proteins similar to what the COVID-19 vaccines tell the body to make on its own over a period of about two weeks.

“This is kind of like getting your antibodies right away, so it helped keep a lot of people out of the hospital,” Dr. David Pate said on Idaho Matters. Pate is a member of the Idaho Coronavirus Task Force and former CEO of St. Luke’s Health System.

The Food and Drug Administration this week revoked approval for two types of monoclonal antibody treatments, because data show they aren’t effective against Omicron.

"Honestly, I'm shocked that it took them this long to do it because things are bad enough without wasting valuable health care provider time infusing a medicine that is not going to be effective," Erin Fox, a pharmacy director at University of Utah Health, told NPR.

First available last fall in Idaho, monoclonal antibody infusions require a doctor’s referral to one of now 25 treatment sites statewide.

The treatment is expensive, especially when compared to COVID-19 vaccine regimens, and treatments were hard to find even when three brands were available. Now with two brands shelved because they don’t work against Omicron. The one remaining treatment approved by the FDA is extremely scarce.

“We have to triage that to the people that are the absolute highest risk patients,” Pate told Idaho Matters.

State Health and Welfare said Idaho's allocation of sotrovimab, the still-approved monoclonal antibody treatment, fluctuates each week. Earlier in January, it was 192 treatments. Another week this month, it was 102.

Through a spokesman, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn called shipments of the treatment, a 'small but steady supply.'

The spokesman did not answer whether or not the reduced supply of antibody treatments would result in some of Idaho's sites shutting down.