Clinics low on antibody treatment say politics stand in the way of saving lives

HHS to develop new treatment distribution plan
antibody treatment.jpeg
Posted at 3:32 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 15:10:02-04

Update: Physicians Urgent Care says the Tennessee Department of Health has agreed to send them additional doses of monoclonal antibodies. They have asked for 100 doses; however, the state cannot guarantee that number. Their supply was supposed to end after today.

Original story:

Physicians Urgent Care will run out of their last dose of antibody treatment on Friday and administrators worry a new distribution plan will only delay getting help to those who need it most.

Call volume has gone from 6,000 to more than 17,000 in the last month alone and administrator Jodi Strock says many of these calls are for people seeking the monoclonal antibody treatment. They’ve had the treatment since April, but it wasn’t until July where the sudden surge of patients forced them to make changes.

Strock hired more nurses and staff to answer calls. They cleared out their conference room to make space for three patients at a time. They’ve managed to administer 100 treatments every week and only order as much as they need.

“These people are sick. I mean really, really sick. They come in sometimes and their oxygen stats are below 90. They’ll hospitalize you at that point. So we have kept tons of people out of the hospital,” Strock said.

A typically filled fridge is now down to just a few doses that will last only through Friday.

They’re likely the only facility in Williamson County where you can get the infusion, which is part of the reason why so many have turned to their services. Strock says the delta variant has made people sicker and that includes much younger patients than they’ve seen in the past.

The treatment is not considered a cure but can be thought of as a dramatic boost to your immune system. The antibodies help you to better fight off infection. The window for when you’re eligible for treatment is only between your fourth and tenth day of infection. Strock says most patients walk away feeling better between 24-48 hours.

Patients can get the antibody treatment through infusion or a series of shots.

We met Michael Johnson as he was treated. Once he walked out of the clinic he said he was already feeling better from the infusion. What he didn’t know is that he may be one of the last to get the treatment in the county.

“I had no idea. When she told me that, I almost cried,” Johnson said.

Johnson is not vaccinated but says he was far less skeptical of this treatment because he was already sick. What frustrates him the most is knowing his wife may not have a chance to get the same treatment because of a new distribution plan from the federal level.

“They insist on getting an experimental treatment when you’re well and then they want to withhold experimental treatment when you’re sick. That does not breed trust,” Johnson said.

It’s heartbreaking for Strock who says they’ve already turned away dozens of people attempting to get the treatment next week.

The Department of Health and Human Services says they will, “determine the amount of product each state and territory receives on a weekly basis. State and territorial health departments will subsequently identify states that will receive the product and how much. This system will help maintain equitable distribution, both geographically and temporally, across the country - providing states and territories with consistent, fairly-distributed supply over the coming weeks."

What they’ve noticed is that seven states, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas, all account for at least 70 percent of orders at the beginning of September.

Each of these states ranks in the bottom half of the country for vaccination rates and most cases have declined to impose a statewide mask mandate.

The Biden administration is working to accelerate manufacturing the treatments from 100,000 doses per week to 150,000. So far the US has purchased 3 million doses from Regeneron, but Strock says they’re still in the dark for when this will reach Tennessee.

She urges the HHS to look beyond any political barriers standing in the way and focus on helping to ease the burden off our hospitals. Strock says she and her staff promote vaccination, but will always be there no matter who needs treatment.

“We feel our role is to keep people out of the hospital right now. That’s what we need to be doing,” Strock said.