The majority of doses of COVID-19 antibodies sent to states have not been used, Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, the US government’s coronavirus vaccine effort, told CNBC. About 65,000 doses of the medicine, which can help protect people at high risk of severe COVID-19 from developing severe cases of the disease, are released each week. Only 5 to 20 percent end up going to patients.
It’s disappointing, Slaoui told CNBC, because the drugs could help keep patients with COVID-19 out of hospital.
Doses are not used because their administration is complicated. Continuing outbreaks of COVID-19 cases across the country mean states lack the resources to sort out these logistics. The Utah Department of Health said The edge in November, that the state had to focus on keeping hospitals afloat and could not spend the time organizing the distribution of antibody drugs.
This is a giant failure that we must remedy.
It is also a failure that many have predicted.
We now have the tools to end the suffering of covid. We just have to find a way to get them to the patients. https://t.co/XZULmqpSam
– Walid Gellad, MD MPH (@walidgellad) December 15, 2020
Despite thousands of unused doses, antibody drugs, manufactured by pharmaceutical companies Regeneron and Eli Lilly, are in limited supply. Each state receives a set amount each week based on the number of COVID-19 cases it reports each week. Then the state has to decide how to distribute it among the hospitals. It is not a readily available resource, so doctors do not rely on it as a standard treatment.
Another challenge is that antibody drugs must be given to patients soon after they contract COVID-19. Timing is everything. If patients are not tested or do not receive test results within a short period of time after their illness, they cannot benefit from the drug. Even if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 quickly at a testing site, they may not start to feel seriously ill or call a doctor until they are out of that window. Without this contact, they might not know or be offered the medicine.
In addition, the drug must be administered intravenously – so patients who are in the most contagious early stages of their disease should visit a hospital or outpatient setting where they will interact with nurses and doctors. States and healthcare organizations need to have safe places in place for patients to receive treatment.
Slaoui told CNBC that maybe Operation Warp Speed could help states manage this logistics. But for now they are still a barrier preventing thousands of people from receiving treatment for COVID-19.