What You Need to Know About Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutic Treatment

Reading Time: 4 minutes

UPDATE: As of September 21, 2021, local supply of Monoclonal antibodies is extremely low, and is expected to remain so for two or more weeks. If you are seeking treatment, you will need to go through your health care provider for a referral. Please do not call local treatment providers or go to the emergency department for monoclonal antibody treatment.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. We know that people who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to get COVID-19, and that the vaccines continue to prove effective in keeping people from getting seriously sick or dying if they catch the virus.

We also know that COVID-19—and especially the delta variant—are still circulating widely in our community. Local case and hospitalization rates are at the highest that they’ve ever been, with unvaccinated people representing the vast majority of these cases. Breakthrough cases (when someone who is fully vaccinated and contracts COVID-19) are also a reality, and in rare circumstances, fully vaccinated folks are still becoming critically ill with the virus.

Thankfully, for certain high risk individuals who do get COVID-19—regardless of vaccination status—there is some good news available.

What are monoclonal antibodies?

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that help jumpstart your immune system so you can fight off a COVID-19 infection. They can be given by a shot or an IV infusion. Studies show that the treatments successfully fight the virus and prevent serious illness.

Is Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutic Treatment safe?

To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued Emergency Use Authorization for several monoclonal antibody treatments. The FDA currently recommends the REGEN-COV™ and Sotrovimab monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.

Just like with any medication, the safety and effectiveness of this investigational therapy continues to be evaluated by the FDA for treatment of COVID-19.

Potential side effects of REGEN-COV™ and Sotrovimab include allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, as well as infusion-related reactions, including pain, bruising of the skin, soreness, swelling, and possible infection at the injection site.

Who should get this treatment and when?

Monoclonal antibody therapies can treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and children 12 and older (must weigh at least 88 lbs.), who are at high risk for developing severe illness. Some fully vaccinated people may even qualify for antibody treatment if they are in a high-risk category.

Regardless of vaccination status, timing is important. Monoclonal antibodies must be given within 10 days of getting symptoms to work best. Once someone is hospitalized or needs oxygen therapy due to COVID-19, they are no longer eligible to receive monoclonal antibody treatments. Check with your doctor right away to decide if this treatment is right for you.

If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your healthcare professional if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Do I still need to get vaccinated if this treatment is available?

Monoclonal antibody therapies are not authorized for pre-exposure prevention of COVID-19. These therapies do not replace vaccination against COVID-19. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent against contracting COVID-19 and is recommended by the CDC for everyone 12 years and older.   

How are vaccines and monoclonal therapies different?

A vaccine helps stimulate and prepare your immune system to respond if or when you are exposed to COVID-19. Two weeks following your final dose, your immune system is prepped and ready to create antibodies, even before they are needed.

Monoclonal antibodies boost the immune system after you are already sick with COVID-19. The treatment speeds up your immune response to prevent a person’s symptoms from getting worse. Monoclonal antibodies act as guided missiles that target the virus, but protection doesn’t stick around. While monoclonal antibodies are effective for a short period, COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to still offer significant protection months down the road.

While Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutic Treatment is a great option for people who are already sick with the virus and at an increased risk for complications, vaccination is the easiest and most effective option for keeping people safe.

Is this treatment free?

The federal government provides some monoclonal antibody treatments for free. Depending on insurance coverage, some may need to pay an administration fee. This is to cover the costs of giving the treatment, not for the antibodies. As always, check with your insurance provider to learn more about treatment costs for your specific plan, first. For people with Medicare and Medicaid, the cost of administering the treatment should be covered.

Where can I get Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutic Treatment?

Monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy is available in Washington state with a provider’s recommendation for certain high risk individuals. People can be at high risk because of many reasons including their age, having an underlying medical condition, and other things. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Age ≥ 65 years
  • Obesity or being overweight based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clinical growth charts
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Immunosuppressive disease or immunosuppressive treatment
  • Heart or circulatory conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, and possibly high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Chronic lung diseases including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate to severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebral palsy
  • Having a medical device (for example, tracheostomy, gastrostomy, or positive pressure ventilation [not related to COVID-19])

If you think you might qualify for this treatment, please speak to your healthcare provider first and get a referral before contacting these sites to arrange an appointment. There is limited capacity at certain sites, and it is preferred that individuals contact these facilities over the phone to arrange an appointment time, in order to limit exposure for staff and other patients.

To find a Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutic Treatment location near you, go to: https://bit.ly/3hVhagX.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing

Antibody Testing

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There has been a lot of talk about COVID-19 antibody testing, and even more questions. When can I get it? Where can I get it? Is it even accurate? What does it mean if I test positive for antibodies? It’s a complicated topic, but we’ll try and make some sense of it for you.

First, let’s start with the basics:

What are antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins created by your body to fight off pathogens, like bacteria and viruses. Your immune system makes specific antibodies to each particular pathogen you encounter and successfully fight off. Your body also makes antibodies when you receive vaccines, so you can get the same immune benefit of having an illness without having to go through the discomfort of actually having the illness. These antibodies remain in your blood after you’ve fought off the infection, and antibody tests, also called serology (fancy way of saying blood) tests, can detect them.

How long do antibodies last?

This completely depends on what the antibody is designed to fight. Some antibodies, like those against chicken pox and tetanus, potentially last decades or even a lifetime. Others, like those that fight against the common cold, have shorter lives, usually just a few months.

The common cold is often caused by coronaviruses. If antibodies against the novel coronavirus behave in the same way, immunity to COVID-19 may not last very long. It’s possible that the antibodies will last for years, or it’s possible that people will be susceptible to reinfection much quicker than that. Once a vaccine is produced, you might need just one immunization in your lifetime or you may need a yearly vaccination in order to stay protected. It’s just too early to tell.

Can an antibody test tell me if I have COVID-19?

No, it can take 1-3 weeks – or longer for some people – after infection for your body to start making antibodies, so a serology test can only tell you if you may have had the virus in the past and now have antibodies to it. If you want to know if you have an active infection, you’ll need a viral test that looks for virus DNA. These tests are generally a nasal swab test or a nasopharyngeal swab test. You can request a test from your health care provider or go to the drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College, Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm.

Many people have wondered if the drive-thru testing site will start offering antibody testing. At this time, there is no plan to do so. The main goal of the drive-thru testing site is to catch active cases and stop the virus from spreading. 

Are COVID-19 antibody tests accurate?

Well, that depends. Some tests are more accurate than others. There are a lot of tests floating around that are completely bogus. Your best bet is to contact your health care provider and get the test from them. But even with the most accurate serology test, there is a chance that you’ll receive a false positive, meaning the test says you have antibodies but you really don’t.

Even if you do have antibodies present in your blood, indicating you’ve had the infection, we do not know how long those antibodies will last. You might be protected this week, and vulnerable to reinfection next week. Or you might be protected for months or years. Nobody knows for sure!

For both of these reasons, it’s important that you don’t view a positive antibody test as a free pass to do whatever you want. You still need to follow social distancing guidelines, wear a mask in public, try your very hardest not to touch your face or mask, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often. We know it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth, and we want you to know the facts so you can keep yourself safe and healthy.

If you want more information about serology testing, the CDC and FDA have plenty of research available. Please note that not all tests that are available have been approved by – or even applied for approval from – the FDA, so if you want to take an antibody test, talk to your healthcare provider so you can ensure the test you take (and spend your money one) is FDA approved.

So, why bother getting an antibody test at all?

Skagit County has tested thousands of people for active COVID-19 infections, but we know that many people who had COVID-19 were never tested. It’s possible that they had mild or completely asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 and never knew they were sick, or caught the virus before tests were widely available. They may have never been formally diagnosed with COVID-19 but still have antibodies present in their blood.

Antibody tests can be used to get a general sense of how widespread COVID-19 has been in the community. While it might not be a good idea to base your individual actions on your antibody test result, experts can use the data of a population to form their health recommendations going forward. You can learn more about the research being done here. Researchers can also use the data to figure out what exactly it means to have antibodies in your system: Are you immune to reinfection? For how long? 

Additionally, there is ongoing research into whether “convalescent plasma” – a specific part of the blood – from those who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used as a treatment for those who are seriously ill from COVID-19. If you have antibodies in your blood, you could help scientists develop a treatment that potentially saves lives. You can find out more information about donating your plasma and where you can do so here. There are locations in Bellingham and Everett, and several others in King and Pierce counties.  

Right now, there are a lot of unknowns about antibody testing and what a positive test result means for your future health. This is a new virus, and we’re still learning a lot about it. As researchers find out more about COVID-19, Skagit County Public Health will share this information with you. Your health is our priority.