WakeMed doctor says antibody treatment can reduce hospitalizations in high-risk COVID-19 patients

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Without enough vaccinations to go around, and more and more people getting sick with COVID-19, hospitals are filling up, but doctors at WakeMed say a monoclonal antibody treatment is showing promise in keeping high-risk patients out of the hospital if it’s given quickly enough.

Seven days a week, the infusion center at WakeMed offers monoclonal antibody treatments for high-risk COVID-19 patients.

“These antibodies directly attack the virus,” explained Dr. David Kirk, Associate Chief Medical Officer for WakeMed Health System.

You may remember President Donald Trump and Chris Christie both received antibody treatments following their COVID-19 diagnoses.

Doctors must act fast, giving the treatment soon after symptoms appear. Later in the illness, Dr. David Kirk says it could do more harm than good.

“That’s one of the reasons we have been giving infusions seven days a week,” he said. “We do believe that that 24 to 48 hours – even over a weekend – would make a difference.”

The goal of the treatment is to keep patients at the highest risk of COVID-19 complications out of the hospital, and Kirk said he’s seen success so far.

“Based on the trial data, and based on our experience, we think it reduces hospitalizations by at least 2/3 in the highest risk population who can get it very, very early.”

Kirk says WakeMed has given the treatment to more than 440 patients so far.

“We have probably kept 40 or 50 people out of the hospital, and we do know that these high-risk patients who come into the hospital they probably have a 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent risk of death,” he noted.

At this point, he says this is the only outpatient treatment for high-risk patients. To qualify, patients must be 65 or older or have certain medical conditions. All patients need a doctor’s referral.

“It’s a very complicated risk-benefit for the patient, so we really want it to be that private discussion between a patient and a provider,” said Kirk.

While the treatment can be given up to 10 days after symptoms appear, the earlier a patient receives it, the better. Kirk says he will not give it to a patient who shows signs of potentially needing hospitalization or oxygen treatment.

“What we don’t want to do in a situation like this is make things worse,” he said. “So we are using it very, very early.”

If you think you qualify for the treatment, Kirk suggests getting tested as soon as you feel COVID-19 symptoms, and then immediately contact your doctor to see if this treatment is a good option if you test positive.

While the antibody treatment is still investigational, Kirk believes it shows promise for some patients.

“We know those very high-risk patients are going to come in and not do well,” he said. “It’s finally something our docs in the community can provide these patients to give them hope.”

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