WILMINGTON — Monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19 are picking up steam. The infusions of antibodies into infected patients, when administered early enough and if the case is not too severe, decreases the likelihood of hospitalization.
Two days after federal distribution policy for these drugs shifted, Gov. Roy Cooper toured the Cape Fear Clinic, a charitable clinic that performs monoclonal antibody infusions using a product made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
There are 186 clinics in the state offering the treatments, in which infused antibodies are bound to the virus, impairing its ability to take root in cells. Cape Fear Clinic was approved to start offering the infusions in January; it was one of the first non-hospital providers get there.
“We know if given early enough, with mild to moderate symptoms, that it could have a positive effect on these patients,” Cooper said outside the Cape Fear Clinic on Wednesday afternoon.
Two brands of the treatment are operating under emergency use authorizations from the Food and Drug Administration: Xevudy and REGEN-COV (Regeneron). Until this week, providers like the clinic would order the products directly from manufacturers or distributors. The federal government stepped in Sept. 13 to transfer oversight of the distribution process to the states.
According to a spokesperson for N.C. Department of Health and Human Services: “A state-coordinated distribution system will give health departments maximum flexibility to get these critical drugs where they are needed most.”
Healthcare providers approved to give the drugs now submit orders to the state by Wednesday at noon of any given week. The order is confirmed or denied by that Friday, then received by the provider by the next Tuesday.
The state used this same formula to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine. State health officials assess and dole out the product each week based on the needs of different providers and the supply on hand. The expectation for the monoclonal antibody treatments (also known as mAbs) will be the same as it was for the vaccine earlier this year: Providers are asked to exhaust their supply within one week. (NCDHHS previously changed its guidance on Covid-19 vaccines to allow providers to hold onto them for longer than a week.)
Health and human services Secretary Mandy Cohen joined Cooper in Wilmington on Wednesday. She said the treatment is always free, and the department is getting word out to all providers about the change in distribution method.
“If you have Covid, there is a treatment. There is a treatment that is available, but you have to get it early,” Cohen said. “The treatment has to be given within the first 10 days of having symptoms, and it works better the sooner you get that treatment.”
Dr. M. Kent Locklear, chief medical officer for Cape Fear Clinic, said the facility has the capacity to administer between 30 and 35 infusions weekly. The clinic serves uninsured patients in the region for free with a staff of 18 and a volunteer network.
“They’re taking a buck and stretching it as far as you can,” said New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple, complimenting the clinic’s work throughout the pandemic, which has also included vaccinations.
Cooper signed an executive order earlier this month on the subject of monoclonal antibody treatments, designed to boost the availability of the drugs in North Carolina. It insulates workers providing Covid-19 services from civil liability.
Locklear said the state has been a strong resource in raising the visibility of the treatments — an effort that’s increased recently with rising hospitalizations and case counts attributed to the delta variant — but the primary focus of most government actors has been promoting the vaccines.
“There hasn’t been the big campaigns like we’ve seen with the vaccines, because that’s where all the energy was going,” he said. “They feel like it’s time to ramp it up.”
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