Antibody treatments for COVID help, but cost is high on all sides

Amanda Peacher Sep 24, 2021
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Rows of beds and their letter designations are seen in a tent used for monoclonal antibody treatment of COVID-19 patients outside of St. Claire Regional Medical Center on September 16, 2021 in Morehead, Kentucky. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Antibody treatments for COVID help, but cost is high on all sides

Amanda Peacher Sep 24, 2021
Heard on:
Rows of beds and their letter designations are seen in a tent used for monoclonal antibody treatment of COVID-19 patients outside of St. Claire Regional Medical Center on September 16, 2021 in Morehead, Kentucky. Jon Cherry/Getty Images
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Monoclonal antibody treatments are increasingly in demand by many who are infected with COVID-19. If administered early in an infection, they can help prevent a patient from ending up in the ICU. However, antibody treatments are expensive, resource-intensive, and not always available. 

When Jill Mraidi got COVID in August, she was miserable, “feeling like I was living my last moments of life.”

Her doctors in Orlando, Florida, recommended a monoclonal antibody treatment. 

“There was two infusion nurses, and an infectious disease doctor,” she said.

The infusion took about 30 minutes, plus an hour to watch for side effects.

“And another doctor came in to check me over to make sure I was OK,” she said.

Mraidi is also battling cancer, so the medical staff were extra attentive. Still, that’s two nurses and two doctors for one treatment. 

“It’s been a resource constraint because we could use those nurses in the hospital instead of in the infusion center,” said Dr. David Pate, former CEO of the St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho – where many ICUS are full. He said some patients who refuse the vaccine will ask for antibody treatments. 

“It’s perplexing. We have far more experience with the vaccines than we do with the monoclonal antibody,” he said.

Monoclonal antibodies are authorized only for emergency use right now and Pate said the treatment is costly. 

“The vaccine maybe costs around $20, monoclonal antibodies over $2,000,” he said.

The government foots that bill, so patients pay nothing. Until recently, health care providers could put in direct requests for the antibody treatments, but the federal Health and Human Services Department stepped in to manage supply.

Delta surges in states with high rates of unvaccinated people are pushing demand for the therapy.  

“So we have now a limited supply,” said Dr. Christian Ramers with Family Health Centers of San Diego. He hopes he can get enough treatments to patients who need it.

“This is really the most effective therapy that we have for COVID-19,” he said.

And, it can save resources and money. Ramers said on average, every patient that winds up in the hospital costs about $25,000 to treat.

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