As COVID-19 remains prevalent in our communities, Essentia Health continues to offer a treatment for people diagnosed with mild to moderate cases of the virus who are at high risk for severe complications and hospitalization.
It’s called monoclonal antibody treatment. Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins, which mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens found in viruses. The first monoclonal antibody to receive emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was bamlanivimab in November 2020. Since that time, other monoclonal antibody treatments have also been authorized for use.
Data from 4,600 patients in Minnesota showed that bamlanivimab lowered hospitalization rates to 2.3 percent, compared to 10-15 percent for those who didn’t undergo the treatment. Preliminary data also showed as much as a 70 percent reduction in both hospitalizations and death in treated patients.
However, data from ongoing clinical trials indicates that bamlanivimab alone is not effective against emerging COVID-19 variants. Thus, a new combination monoclonal antibody treatment, which includes both bamlanivimab and another drug called etesevimab, is now in use, including at Essentia. Research shows the treatment to be more effective against COVID variants.
Bonnie Shipman-Banks of Pillager, Minn., said monoclonal antibody treatment helped her get back on her feet. The 61-year-old Shipman-Banks started feeling sick on April 4. Her symptoms included a sore throat, cough and fever. A COVID-19 test came back positive April 8.
“I just thought, ‘No way’. I was kind of in denial,” said Shipman-Banks.
The monoclonal antibody treatment was administered to Shipman-Banks on Friday, April 9, at the Essentia Health St. Joseph’s-Baxter Clinic. Shipman-Banks said her symptoms persisted into Saturday. By Sunday morning, she could tell her body was responding.
“The biggest thing I noticed was I started to feel a little better every single day after receiving the treatment,” she said.
Shipman-Banks was never hospitalized. She said the process was quick, easy and painless. The treatment is administered through an IV. Shipman-Banks said it only took about an hour and a half once she was given the IV.
“It was really simple, and the providers were really good. They occupied my time while I was waiting and kept checking on me to make sure I was doing OK. It was painless,” she said.
While symptoms of COVID-19 often persist for as long as two weeks, Shipman-Banks said thanks to monoclonal antibody treatment hers did not last that long.
“My quarantine date ended on April 15, but I was feeling mostly back to normal a few days before that,” she said.
What she is most grateful for is not feeling alone throughout the process. Part of the treatment involves sending the patient home with a health-monitoring system to keep track of their progress. It monitors vitals and records them to track the patient’s recovery.
“That was tremendous,” she said. “The nurses would call if my blood pressure went up or my fever went up. That part was fantastic because I felt like I was never alone and that I didn’t have COVID in a vacuum.”
Health experts say at this time there are enough supplies on hand to utilize the treatment more broadly. Essentia is accepting referrals from all medical providers within and outside of the Essentia system, and offering it to any patient who meets the FDA’s eligibility requirements, including those patients who receive care from an outside health system. It must be given within 10 days of the start of symptoms and as soon as possible after a positive COVID-19 test.
The therapy is offered at these locations:
• Brainerd: Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, 523 N. Third St.
• Deer River: Essentia Health-Deer River, 115 10th Ave. N.E.
People who have a positive COVID-19 test at any Essentia Health site are automatically screened for the FDA’s criteria. Those who were tested at other sites can contact their primary care provider for a referral, or call a toll-free hotline at (833) 769-1524 to be screened. Hotline hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Health care providers can refer a patient by calling Essentia Health’s STAT Doc line.
The FDA states patients age 12 or older who are at high risk for severe complications and/or hospitalization are eligible for the treatment. Children must weigh at least 40 kilograms or 88 pounds.
Qualified patients include those who:
• Have the COVID-19 virus
• Are within 10 days of beginning mild to moderate symptoms and
• Meet at least one risk factor identified by the FDA
The FDA defines “high risk” as patients who meet at least one of these criteria:
• Body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more
• Chronic kidney disease (consider hemodialysis patients)
• Immunosuppressive disease
• Currently receiving immunosuppressive treatment (e.g. rheumatology patients, patients with inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, on Humira or other immunosuppressive therapies)
• Age 65 or older
• Age 55 or older and have:
— cardiovascular disease OR
— hypertension OR
— chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/other chronic respiratory disease
• Ages 12-17 and have:
— BMI in 85th percentile or higher for age and gender based on CDC growth chart OR
— Sickle cell disease OR
— Congenital or acquired heart disease OR
— Neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. cerebral palsy) OR
— Medical-related technological dependence not related to COVID-19 (e.g. tracheostomy, gastrostomy or positive-pressure ventilation) OR
— Asthma, reactive airway or other chronic respiratory disease that requires daily medication for control