This week, we address questions and misperceptions about monoclonal antibody therapy, a COVID-19 treatment that is not a substitute for the vaccine but can still help prevent severe illness for those who have recently tested positive for the virus.
Have a question of your own? Drop it in the form at the bottom of this story.
What is monoclonal antibody treatment? How does it work?
The treatment involves laboratory-manufactured antibodies that “help your body take down the virus quickly,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, during a recent call with news media.
The antibodies work by mimicking the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, and in this case by blocking the virus’s attachment and entry into human cells. Doctors give them to patients through an IV.
[Touted by some as a cure, monoclonal antibody demand is high in Alaska’s least-vaccinated places, but it’s no replacement for a vaccine]
Some research shows the treatment can reduce the chance of hospitalization and death by 70% and shorten the duration of symptoms by about four days. But, that’s not always the case, and health officials say they’re no replacement for the vaccine.
“The better and the fastest way to take down the virus is if you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, because you have those antibodies” already, Zink said.
“But, if you get sick, and you are not vaccinated — or even if you are vaccinated, but high-risk (for severe illness from the virus) — adding to those natural antibodies these small, potent antibodies — particularly early on in the disease process — may minimize your chance of hospitalization,” she explained.
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Who is eligible to receive the treatment?
Alaskans 12 and above with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19 who are considered high-risk for severe illness from the virus may be eligible for the treatment — even those who’ve previously been vaccinated.
Providers will only offer the treatment to people who’ve had symptoms for less than 10 days — and Zink said within the first five days is preferable because that’s when it’s most effective.
“It’s all about timing,” she said.
Brittany Blake, a nurse at Urgent Care at Lake Lucille in Wasilla, said she wishes more people understood that the treatment is something Alaskans should look into right when they first test positive, not when they’re so sick that they need to be hospitalized, because then it’s too late.
“We’ve had some people who are really frustrated because they didn’t realize the urgency of getting the treatment within that one to 10 days, and unfortunately we can’t give it to them after that because it can be harmful,” Blake said.
Is it free?
This varies somewhat by provider, but in many cases, yes — the treatment is free.
One Tikahtnu clinic that offers the treatment told the Daily News that patients are not charged regardless of whether or not they have health insurance, while a different clinic said it’s only free for people who have insurance.
Is it safe?
The treatment has received an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is granted when the agency determines a treatment to be both safe and effective.
How can Alaskans access the treatment?
Alaskans can call their physician or the state’s coronavirus helpline, 907-646-3322, with questions about their eligibility and which providers near them offer the treatment.
How quickly does the treatment work?
Often relatively quickly. Blake, the Wasilla nurse, said the majority of her patients usually feel a little worse right after the treatment, and much better the next day.
“They go to bed and they wake up, and it’s like night and day,” she said.
Can people who’ve received the antibody treatment get vaccinated against COVID-19?
People who have received a monoclonal antibody infusion for COVID-19 should not be vaccinated until 90 days after their infusion, health officials say.