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Idaho doctor explains COVID-19 antibody treatment as FDA ceases distribution

There are likely more cases of variants in Idaho than are being reported in Idaho, according to Dr. Daniel Reed, so antibody treatment will need refining.

BOISE, Idaho — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced the United States will stop the distribution of Bamlanivimab (BAM), one of the popular COVID-19 antibody treatments.

The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the treatment back in early November.

"It's a specific protein that locks on to COVID-19," said Daniel Reed, a family practice doctor at Primary Health. "It's monoclonal because it's one protein, where when the human generates an immune response it's lots of different antibodies or polyclonal."

Primary Health accesses BAM through Saint Alphonsus, St. Lukes and Valore Health. St. Luke's is seeing success from the treatment; 159 patients received the treatment in the first five weeks of its authorization and approximately 80 hospitalizations were prevented.

Not only is supply limited, but there are extremely strict requirements for who is eligible to receive the treatment.

"It's for patients 12 and older, high-risk conditions such as chronic renal failure, kidney failure, diabetes," Reed said. "With that narrow approval that we have for this medication, the supply hasn't been the dominant issue. If its application were widened, that would have been a very different scenario."

High-risk patients must be in the early stages of their infection to receive antibody treatment, meaning they cannot be seriously ill or in need of hospitalization.

BAM treatment has proven to be effective thus far, but as variants of COVID-19 begin to appear in Idaho, it makes it more difficult to identify the monoclonal antibody.

There are likely more cases of variants in Idaho than are being reported in Idaho, according to Reed, so antibody treatment will need refining.

"This will be an ongoing product, in essence, a potential arms race because the next monoclonal antibody will lose effectiveness and so will the next one if we don't stop the rapid spread," he said. "This goes back to the most important things we can and should continue to do is prevent the spread, thus the transmission and thus the replication and the risk of variants."

Idaho has received more than 4,000 patient treatments of BAM to date, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Providers can use the doses they have remaining but will not be receiving any more in the foreseeable future.

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