CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – This week, the FDA revoked emergency use authorization for two monoclonal antibody treatments that doctors said don’t work against the omicron variant. The state health department called the supply of treatments that do work “very limited.”
Right now, the treatments are reserved for people at the highest risk of ending up in the hospital, but people who qualify have to act fast.
Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC, hopes to help as many COVID-19 patients as possible avoid ending up in the hospital. He said that’s hard with the limited supply of treatments.
Only one type of antibody treatment works against omicron, but availability is limited. There is also a very limited supply of antiviral pills.
“We’ve had to really ration our treatments because of the supply and prioritize it for the people who could benefit most,” Wohl said. “That’s happening all across the country.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, COVID-19 treatments are currently prioritized for people with compromised immune systems, who may not respond well to the vaccine and those who are unvaccinated and at high risk of severe disease based on age or underlying conditions.
“We do know who needs this stuff to keep them out of the hospital,” Wohl said, noting that most of the sickest patients in the hospital are unvaccinated.
Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert at Duke explained, “All of those trials looking at those antivirals and antibodies specifically looked at people who are unvaccinated.”
“We understand a little bit less about what they do in vaccinated folk,” he added.
People who qualify for the treatments have to act fast. The pills should be given within five days of symptoms starting.
“You’ve got to be able to recognize that your symptoms may be COVID, recognize that you might have risk factors for severe disease, get a test and then let us know. And for all that to actually happen in five days is complicated,” Wolfe said.
He said many people don’t even realize they have COVID-19 at first.
“They think maybe this is just a bad sinus infection, or, ‘maybe I’ve got the flu,’ or, ‘I’ve been fine with every other respiratory illness, so even if I think this is COVID, then I’m going to fight it off,'” he said.
“Suddenly they find they’re five or six days in and things are getting worse, and actually that may be past the point when some of these treatments help.”
The treatments require a prescription, so it’s important to contact a doctor after you test positive if you think you qualify.
There is another option for some high-risk patients. Remdesivir, which was only given in the hospital at first, can now be used as an outpatient treatment, but it has to be given by IV infusion for three days in a row.