It’s been a year since the first COVID-19 case was documented in Wuhan, China. Since then, the disease has spread around the globe and throughout the United States. More than 20 million people in our nation have become infected, and more than 350,000 have died.
But there is hope. Vaccines are here, and monoclonal antibody treatment provides a new therapy for patients with mild to moderate illness.
“Believe the science,” says Steve Stites, MD, chief medical officer for The University of Kansas Health System. “It’s not going to lead you astray. Science is bringing us vaccines. Science is bringing us monoclonal antibody treatment. And we will tell you what we know.”
“We’re getting closer to a finish line,” adds Heather Harris, DO, medical director at HaysMed. “Not the finish line, but a finish line. If we can just keep lowering the curve and reduce critical illness a little longer. We have all come this far to stay healthy. If we can give it just a few more months, I think the spring will look better.”
The situation is a dynamic one and changes rapidly. Health system leaders like Dr. Stites and Dr. Harris have been at the forefront of receiving and sharing important information.
The latest on COVID-19 vaccines
Multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers have produced COVID-19 vaccines. They are in various stages of FDA approval. Distribution has begun under emergency use authorization. This is special FDA permission to use new drugs in emergency scenarios to promote public health even while late-stage research continues.
A CDC volunteer team called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has met numerous times to discuss and plan vaccine distribution. The committee determined that the first doses of the vaccine will be given to frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term nursing care facilities. Production of the vaccine will continue until the general public has access.
The vaccine will be given in 2 doses per person. It may be needed annually, though complete information is not yet known.
The University of Kansas Health System created a COVID-19 vaccine FAQ and updates it regularly. You can find it at kansashealthsystem.com/vaccine.
What is monoclonal antibody treatment?
It sounds a little intimidating, but monoclonal antibody treatment is something to feel good about. It’s new a therapy for people with mild to moderate COVID-19. It is given to eligible patients who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are believed to be at high risk for developing severe illness.
A monoclonal antibody is a medical product produced in a laboratory. These molecules are designed to act just like the antibodies the body would produce to recover from a disease. The laboratory-produced molecules are given to the patient to mimic the immune system’s reaction to disease – in effect, tricking the body into thinking it has COVID-19 and fighting it off. Monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 – called bamlanivimab – battle the virus, reducing its ability to cause severe illness or damage.
The University of Kansas Health System has received a limited number of bamlanivimab doses. We provide it to eligible patients, who must meet criteria as follows:
- Patients must meet all of these:
- Age > 12 years
- Body weight > 40kg
- Within 7 days of symptom onset
- Confirmed COVID-19 with mild to moderate symptoms
- Without increased oxygen requirements
- Not actively hospitalized and unlikely to require hospitalization due to COVID-19
- Not pregnant or breast feeding
- No history of a positive SARS-CoV-2 antibody
- Has not received SARS-CoV-2 convalescent plasma or another SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody
- And one of these:
- Age > 65 years
- BMI > 35 kg/m2
- Chronic kidney disease of stage IV or above, diabetes mellitus, active cancer, solid organ transplant recipient, HIV with inadequate CD4 count, cirrhosis, sickle cell disease or humoral immunity defects (inherited, due to chemotherapy or other immunosuppressant therapy)
- Age > 55 years with chronic lung diseases, cardiovascular disease or hypertension
- Age 12-17 years with BMI > 85th percentile, sickle cell disease, heart disease, neurodevelopmental disorders, chronic respiratory disease requiring daily medication for control, medical-related technological dependenceMonoclonal antibody treatment is given by infusion on an outpatient basis. It must be given as soon as possible after the positive COVID-19 test result is confirmed, so it’s important to get tested quickly after you notice the first signs or symptoms.
Follow the pillars
Even as these developments progress, safety standards that have seen us through the pandemic this far still apply and haven’t changed.“Rural areas may have felt like they were protected from the virus because of their geography,” Dr. Harris adds. “Clearly, that’s not the case. In the community setting, we care for our family and friends every day and rarely see a stranger. Continue to be cautious and keep yourself and your community safe.”
- Learn more
The latest news on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments changes quickly. To keep up on developing information, you can:
- “Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, stay at home if you’re sick, and don’t go out and congregate in large groups,” Dr. Stites says. “That’s what’s kept us safe in hospitals. It’s the same science in the community.”
- Visit kansashealthsystem.com/update.
- Tune in to the health system’s Steve Stites, MD, chief medical officer, and Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of infectious disease, on Facebook Live education events, weekdays at 8 a.m. on The University of Kansas Health System Facebook feed.