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What are monoclonal antibodies? And who in Idaho provides the treatment?

The state opened the first of three centers in North Idaho slated for monoclonal antibody treatment.

BOISE, Idaho — Last month, Gov. Brad Little announced plans for the state to open three monoclonal antibody treatment facilities to help treat COVID-19. On Wednesday, the first of the three expected treatment centers opened in northern Idaho. 

“Kootenai Health has been partnering with Heritage Health,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. “They believe they can treat up to 48 patients in a day.”

She revealed during this week's Health and Welfare COVID-19 media briefing that the treatment center in Coeur d'Alene was scheduled to open on Monday, but because of a shipment delay in antibody products, it opened Wednesday instead. 

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

“In addition, we've received a proposal from eastern Idaho, it looks very good and we are working on firming up plans to start a treatment center in eastern Idaho as well,” Hahn said.

So, what are monoclonal antibodies? Essentially, they work by attaching to the virus and preventing the virus from infecting cells, according to Dr. Morgan Hakki, interim head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at OHSU and the vice-chair for clinical programs for the Department of Medicine. The FDA has given the treatment emergency use authorization. It's not preventative or a substitution for the vaccine.

Experts say getting the treatment only works if you get COVID or if you're immunocompromised and you're exposed to COVID. Under the FDA emergency authorization rules, the treatment is reserved for high-risk patients. It's given through an intravenous infusion or an IV administered by a nurse. The treatment can also be given as an injection under the skin. The whole point of the treatment is to keep people out of the hospital.

The next step was to open a treatment center in the Treasure Valley, but that may have hit some delays. During Tuesday’s media briefing, Dr. Hahn said because of the increased demand around the country, Health and Human Services is allocating certain amounts of monoclonal products per state and territory. Now, the state is recalibrating the number of doses coming to Idaho and making sure they're sufficient for the providers already providing these treatments.

There are now 32 Idaho providers who are using this to treat COVID-19, according to the governor's office. To find a provider in your area, click here.

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