Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News
Monoclonal antibodies have been mentioned throughout news cycles lately, but what exactly are they?
Antibodies are the natural defenders in our immune system that recognize and defend against harmful pathogens. Monoclonal antibodies are their scientific counterpart as they are created in a laboratory and are designed to fight a specific virus or bacteria.
In the case of COVID-19, monoclonal antibodies have been used to fight against SARS-CoV-2 after exposure for patients who are considered high risk and have both tested positive for COVID-19 and exhibited symptoms for 10 days or less. These man-made proteins are an imitation of the body’s natural ability to fight off infection. They are designed to stop the virus from entering the host cell, and subsequently destroy and remove it from the body.
The next question that must be asked is what are the risks and benefits associated with this type of treatment?
Early treatment is the key and some research suggests that monoclonal antibody treatment reduces an infected individual’s viral load. Treatment is free for patients through Medicaid and Medicare and can either be given as an injection or through an IV infusion. Patients are then monitored for any adverse events for an hour after the treatment.
In a continued effort to mitigate and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its various mutations, the Biden administration is making this treatment option more accessible to individuals who are in need. President Biden stated “We’re increasing the availability of new medicines…The monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 70% for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease.”
The greatest benefit of these treatments is reduced symptoms, shortened duration of symptoms, and reduced risk of hospitalization. However, as with any medical treatment there is a risk of adverse reactions. These include hypersensitivity, anaphylaxis and infusion-related reactions, rash, diarrhea, nausea, dizziness, and itching.
There are three treatment options currently under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA: bamlanivimab plus etesevimab, casirivimab plus imdevimab, and sotrovimab. Hospitals are implementing treatment protocols with monoclonal antibodies for patients who are considered at high risk of contracting COVID. Preliminary studies have shown that monoclonal antibodies may play an important role in reducing the spread of COVID from infected patients.
This treatment would greatly benefit patients in skilled nursing facilities or long term care facilities. The implementation of these treatments would stand in stark contrast to the disastrous policies of some government officials to admit COVID positive patients to these same facilities which resulted in more than 186,000 resident and staff deaths across the United States.
Studies are suggesting that monoclonal antibody treatment varies depending on specific patient factors and that while this treatment may not be appropriate for everyone, it is still highly recommended. Research also suggests that unvaccinated individuals should wait 90 days after treatment before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine because it may interfere with vaccine-induced responses. However, if an individual is already vaccinated and becomes infected with COVID-19 there are no contraindications for receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment.
According to Professor Turner Overton, MD at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, monoclonal antibody infusions are effective, but only last a few weeks to a few months according to experts, and officials continue to encourage vaccination as the primary protection against COVID-19 infection.
With new and proven treatment options available there are important questions that must be asked. Why, given the effectiveness of alternative treatments, is the vaccine being aggressively mandated and how does natural immunity factor into this equation?