This week, we tackle the questions and misperceptions about monoclonal antibody therapy, a COVID-19 treatment that does not replace the vaccine but can still help prevent serious illness for those who have recently tested positive for the virus.
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What is monoclonal antibody therapy? How it works?
The treatment involves lab-made antibodies that “help your body clear the virus quickly,” Alaskan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said on a recent media call.
Antibodies work by mimicking the immune system’s ability to fight viruses and, in this case, blocking the virus from binding and entering human cells. Doctors give them to patients intravenously.
[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 that treatment can reduce the risk 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 not replacing the vaccine.
“The best and fastest way to clear the virus is to have been vaccinated against COVID-19 because you already have these antibodies,” Zink said.
“But, if you get sick and you are not vaccinated – or even if you are vaccinated, but at high risk (for serious illness due to the virus) – by adding these natural antibodies to these powerful little antibodies – in particular early in the disease process – can minimize your risk of hospitalization, ”she explained.
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Who is eligible to receive treatment?
Alaskans 12 years and older with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 who are considered at high risk for serious illness from the virus may be eligible for treatment – even those who have been previously vaccinated.
Providers will only offer treatment to people who have had symptoms for less than 10 days – and Zink said the first five days are best because that’s when it’s most effective.
“It’s all about the timing,” she said.
Brittany Blake, Lake Lucille Emergency Care Nurse in Wasilla, said she wanted more people to understand that treatment is something Alaskans should properly consider when they test positive for the first time, and no when they are so sick that they have to be hospitalized, because then it is too late.
“We’ve had people who are really frustrated because they haven’t realized the urgency of getting the treatment within one to 10 days, and unfortunately we can’t give it to them after that because it can be harmful, ”Blake mentioned.
It varies somewhat depending on the provider, but in many cases, yes, the treatment is free.
A Tikahtnu clinic that offers the treatment told the Daily News that patients are not charged whether or not they have health insurance, while another clinic said it was only free for people who have insurance.
Is it safe?
The treatment has received emergency use authorization from the United States Food and Drug Administration, which is granted when the agency determines that a treatment is both safe and effective.
How can Alaskans access treatment?
Alaskans can call their doctor or the state’s coronavirus hotline, 907-646-3322, to ask about their eligibility and which providers near them offer treatment.
How fast does the treatment work?
Often quite quickly. Blake, Wasilla’s nurse, said the majority of her patients generally felt a little worse right after treatment, and much better the next day.
“They go to bed and wake up, and it’s like day and night,” she said.
Can people who have received antibody treatment get the COVID-19 vaccine?
People who have received an infusion of monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 should not be vaccinated until 90 days after their infusion, according to health officials.