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Monoclonal antibody treatment in North Idaho begins Wednesday. Here's what it is and how to get it

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system's ability to fight off harmful antigens, such as COVID-19.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Heritage Health in North Idaho is taking a huge step in the battle against COVID-19. The company is expected to start monoclonal antibody treatment in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday. 

North Idaho hospitals are in crisis mode. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated crisis standards of care for hospitals in North Idaho Tuesday morning after a surge in COVID-19 cases left too few hospital beds and medical personnel to care for all the sick. Hospital beds, medicine, and equipment such as ventilators may be given to those considered most likely to survive, not the most critical. Kootenai Health is converting meeting rooms into space for beds, with the majority of their patients not vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, the hospital said.

"There's an incredible amount of stress on all of our healthcare workers, especially in our local hospitals where there are a lot of COVID patients," Heritage Health Chief Clinic Officer Dr. Peter Purrington said. "The critical care and the burden on the staff is very heavy." 

Crisis standards of care are guidelines that help healthcare providers in how to deliver the best possible care in a public health emergency. Nowhere in the state is the situation worse than in North Idaho, where a record number of COVID patients —  90% of whom are unvaccinated — are requiring more space and more care than at any time during the pandemic. 

But the monoclonal antibody treatment could help give relief to thousands of front-line workers and patients in North Idaho. Heritage Health said this isn't the fix to COVID-19 in the region, but it is something to slow down the hospitalizations. 

"We're very excited to start the monoclonal antibody treatments for our community here on an outpatient basis, we're going to be holding here the Kootenai County Fairgrounds," Purrington said.

So what exactly is the antibody treatment? It is a therapy that was authorized by the FDA in May 2021.  

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system's ability to fight off harmful antigens, such as the COVID-19 virus, he said. The treatment works by targeting the covid spike protein, blocking the virus from entering your body's cells and stopping the infection from spreading.   

The therapy has been shown to avoid about 70% of hospitalizations, he added. 

So how can you get the treatment? Here's what to know:

  • You must be COVID positive with mild to moderate symptoms. These look like flu symptoms: low-grade temperature, sore throat, cough. More moderate cases are people who have some chest pain. If you need oxygen, this treatment is not for you. 
  • You must go to your primary care physician and get a referral. The referral will then be sent to Heritage Health. Heritage Health will then contact you for an appointment.
  • You should have a condition that would make you have a high risk of developing a severe case, or hospitalization, like heart disease.
  • You must be older than 12 years old.

Treatment will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at first. Heritage Health is hoping to take 45 patients a day. It is free to the public, but make sure to schedule time to wait. You will have to sit for one hour after getting the shot. There are no known severe cases of antibody reactions, but they like to monitor just in case, he said. However, people may feel some irritation at the injection site, like any other shot. 

The most important thing to note is that this is not a replacement for the vaccine. The vaccine is a way to prevent even needing the antibody treatment. 

This isn't the only COVID update to the Kootenai County Fairgrounds,

On Thursday, health officials from the region discussed the possibility of reopening a field hospital at the grounds. This will be a long road to recovery, the panhandle health district says getting vaccinated is truly the best way to avoid getting sick or dying from this virus.