Two FDA antibody drugs with emergency approval could help keep COVID patients get out of the hospital. But thousands of doses are sitting unused across the country.
"It's been a bit frustrating over the course of the last month or two," said Dr. John Hammer, an infectious disease specialist at Swedish Medical Center.
Hammer says one issue: many are missing that sweet spot when they can get the medicine for it to work best — in the first week of illness. Treatments have to be given via an IV, and getting IV centers up to administer it is also difficult. Hammer’s waiting on that to begin his study for the Eli Lilly drug.
"We have a place where we could do it that would be safe for providers and for patients. But we just can't get the staffing or haven't been able to to get it up and running to date," he said.
The antibody treatments were highly praised to help at-risk COVID patients from getting severely sick, especially after President Donald Trump received Regeneron’s antibody cocktail when he was hospitalized for COVID in October.
“It was unbelievable. I felt good immediately,” President Trump said.
Health and Human Services numbers show of the more than 530,000 doses available, only a little more than half — some 290,000 doses — have been shipped to hospitals. Even less is getting to patients — only 5% to 20% of doses have been used.
There’s also some cost confusion. Under deals the drugmakers made with the federal government, the doses are free. But, depending on insurance coverage, patients may have to pay for administering the drug.
The NIH and the Infectious Disease Society of America have said there’s not enough data to recommend either treatment. Hospital pharmacists Newsy spoke with say that uncertainty may play into some patients passing up the treatment.
Bottom line—more research and data needs to be done. So if someone is considering either antibody drug, consult your doctor about a clinical trial.
"You may or may not get the agent, but at least it will give us some data as to whether these agents actually work for you and for others," Hammer said.