(NEW YORK) — The use of monoclonal antibodies as a way to prevent people from getting very sick with COVID-19 is rapidly increasing — alongside the grim statistics on surging infection rates across the country.
Federal health officials have seen a “significant increase” in the ordering of monoclonal antibodies in recent weeks with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services telling ABC News orders have increased by more than 1,200%.
HHS said they are currently shipping about 120,000 patient courses of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment a week.
More than three-quarters of those orders are going to the regions in the country with low vaccination rates and states currently getting clobbered hardest by COVID’s surge — and where intensive care unit capacities are most strained.
Between July 1 and Aug. 17, more than 438,100 one-dose infusions of the treatment were ordered nationally.
In that same time frame, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina — designated by HHS as Region 4 — ordered about 198,000 patient courses, or roughly 45% of the national order.
New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana (Region 6) ordered roughly 144,000 — about 33% of the order.
Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic versions of the body’s natural line of defense against severe infection — a therapy designed to send reinforcements for the immune system.
The antibody treatment is meant for COVID-19 patients early in their infection and who are at high risk of getting even sicker, nipping infections in the bud before it puts people in the hospital.
It can be used for breakthrough COVID cases as well, regardless of symptoms. If a person has tested positive within the last 10 days, and they are at risk for getting sicker — like older Americans, patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, asthma or obesity — the treatment is available.
The drug can also now be used for preventative use in some cases. The Food and Drug Administration expanded Regeneron’s authorization in late July, allowing for proactive prophylactic use for people who may have been exposed to COVID, and are at high risk of getting very sick because of health complications, being immunocompromised or because a person wasn’t fully vaccinated.
It can be administered through an intravenous infusion, or a subcutaneous injection, which is less time-consuming and labor-intensive, and more practical in an outbreak situation.
An HHS official told ABC News they are seeing new infusion sites springing up, and sites that had been inactive are coming back online and administering the treatment again.
This new uptick and interest in use of the monoclonals comes after months of mediocre uptake, what then-Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui lamented last winter as “disappointing.”
It also comes as Govs. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, and Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., have ordered the opening of more infusion centers, and touted the treatment’s promise. Abbott, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, said he is taking it himself.
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