Two new antibody treatments have shown promise in preventing high-risk Covid-19 patients from being discharged from hospital.
But despite a publicity boost from President Trump, who received the Regeneron treatment in October and hailed it as a “cure,” the drugs have not been widely used since being approved for emergency use in the month. last by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now federal and state health officials are urging patients and doctors to seek treatments.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
The two treatments, by Eli Lilly and Regeneron, are the first drugs developed specifically for Covid – to be approved by the FDA, and consist of artificially synthesized copies of antibodies that people naturally produce when their immune systems fight infection. Eli Lilly’s medicine consists of an antibody. Regeneron’s is a cocktail of two.
The first data showed that they could prevent hospitalization in people at high risk of serious complications from the disease. Clinical trials are continuing. The treatments are thought to work by helping to stop the virus soon after infection.
Who do the treatments help?
Treatments can be given to anyone who has tested positive for the coronavirus, is at high risk of developing a severe form of the disease, and is within 10 days of the development of the first symptoms.
This includes people who are at least 65 years old and those who are obese or have health problems like diabetes.
Treatments are not allowed for people who have been hospitalized in the past or who need oxygen, as studies in these groups have not shown that the drugs work well.
How much do they cost?
Under the agreements each company has with the federal government, the doses will be free, although some patients, depending on their insurance coverage, may have to pay for the administration of the drug, which must be administered by a supplier. health care.
Are these treatments widely available?
Monoclonal antibody treatments are difficult and time consuming to manufacture, which has limited the number of doses produced by drug manufacturers.
The federal government bought 950,000 doses from Eli Lilly and 300,000 doses from Regeneron. Pharmaceutical companies have already shipped hundreds of thousands of these doses, with the rest expected by the end of January.
How many people received the treatments?
No one knows, but many of the doses distributed so far have gone unused and are in hospital refrigerators.
Although the federal government has nearly 532,000 doses of the two drugs and nearly 291,000 doses have been shipped, neither the government nor the drug companies have complete data on the number of these doses administered to patients.
The subset of hospitals reporting data to the government on the number of doses administered used only 20 percent of their supply, on average, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Why do only some patients have it?
Medicines are used unevenly across the country. Some hospitals cannot receive enough doses. Others haven’t even used much of what they’ve gotten so far.
Various factors have contributed to underutilization: Hospitals are overwhelmed by the viral outbreak and are focusing on administering the first vaccines. And they need to find a space in their crowded facilities where treatments can be infused for a period of several hours without spreading the virus to others.
Some patients have been reluctant to venture out for treatment, whether it is because they are not ready to go to a clinic while they are feeling sick, have no transportation, or that they perceive drugs to be available only for the good – connected people. And the very scarcity of treatments contributes to their underutilization, as some hospitals withhold their supplies for fear of running out.
How can I get them?
There is no direct line or single website to help patients find a provider offering treatment.
Many health systems have ways in place to identify and contact eligible patients who test positive for the coronavirus at test sites or doctor’s offices. But these referral systems vary from community to community.
Eli Lilly’s support hotline for her treatment is 1-855-545-5921. A Regeneron spokeswoman recommended that patients or doctors contact their public health department.
Dr Daniel Skovronsky, scientific director of Eli Lilly, said he advises friends and family members to call the company’s hotline. “If you are persistent and you qualify, you will get it,” he says.