Monoclonal antibody therapy has been effective in reducing the symptoms of serious COVID-19 infection, but currently the nearest place to get treatments is in West Valley City, according to Tooele County Health Department officials.
Monoclonal antibodies are like the antibodies that the human body makes to fight infection, but they are made in a lab and are designed to target the coronavirus spike protein, according to the Utah Department of Health.
When the antibodies bind to the spike protein, they block the virus from entering cells and keep the virus from spreading to other cells. Monoclonal antibody therapy helps people that have COVID-19, it is not a preventative treatment.
“The therapy itself is an IV medication,” said Dacota Shell, COVID-19 public information officer and health educator at the Tooele County Health Department. “The antibodies are made in a lab specifically to treat symptoms of COVID-19. So, this therapy helps prevent illness from getting worse.”
Side effects of the therapy include: pain, bleeding, swelling, or bruising at the injection site, infection at the injection site, feeling sick to the stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and pneumonia, among others.
This treatment has been used to treat cancer patients for years, according to Shell.
“This is not a brand-new system,” she said. “They’ve just changed the system and the way they’ve developed these antibodies.”
The therapy must be started between seven to 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19.
“They do have to be positive while having the therapy, so that those antibodies get into the body and can help fight off the infection, getting sicker, and becoming hospitalized,” Shell explained.
After this time frame, the therapy can’t be administered.
Prior to receiving the therapy, patients need to visit a doctor and their doctor will refer them to a treatment center.
All doctors should have the information needed to refer patients, according to Shell.
From there, they will be able to make an appointment with a treatment center.
After receiving the therapy, patients must wait at least 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
The therapy is expensive, but is covered by the federal government.
What isn’t covered is administrative costs of the therapy, but those costs are covered by Medicaid and most government-funded insurance companies.
Currently, only high-risk individuals, including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, who don’t require hospitalization for COVID-19 are eligible to receive monoclonal antibody therapy.
“Those 65 and older, immunocompromised, high-risk condition individuals can get the therapy,” said Shell. “Someone with fairly good health in their 20’s and 30’s wouldn’t be able to get it, unless there was a specific reason their doctor ordered it.”
In July and August, hospitals and clinics throughout the state began offering the therapy at their facilities.
Now, there are over 50 locations that offer monoclonal therapy statewide.
Rebecca Trigg, public information officer at Mountain West Medical Center, doesn’t think Tooele County, especially the hospital, will be able to provide the therapy locally in the foreseeable future.
“Like with all treatments, protocols are needed to determine if the patient is qualified to receive it, as well as how it is administered,” Trigg said. “Because we are a small hospital, we do not have the protocols available and in place, nor the resources, such as staffing to administer it.”
The treatment takes an hour to infuse, followed by an hour of health officials observing the patient for any reactions.
“Our resources are already currently stretched very thin and this is why we defer to the larger hospitals and healthcare systems that are currently able to handle this,” Trigg explained. “It’s not that we don’t want to be able to or think [a therapy center] would be beneficial.”
Because there are no treatment centers in Tooele County, this makes it very difficult for someone who needs the therapy to get it.
“It takes a couple hours to get the therapy,” Bate said. “So, if someone is very, very sick, and the people who get this therapy are very sick, they’re going to have to find a ride, because they are not going to be able to drive to the therapy, get the therapy for a couple hours, and find a ride home. This is a full-day process for a very sick person and that’s concerning.”
“I think this is a great resource for people but it’s unfortunate that the closest place offering the therapy is in West Valley,” Shell said.
Luckily, the Tooele County Health Aging Services Department offers rides for senior citizens to doctor’s appointments. They just need to call 435-843-4114.
“If they just tell [Aging Services Department] them that they’re old, they don’t drive, and they need a ride to the treatment center, they will help them figure it out,” said Amy Bate, with the Tooele County Health Department. “There are a couple different options there.”
The West Valley Instacare, Salt Lake Clinic Instacare, the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, the University of Utah Health Center, and the LDS Hospital are the closest locations to Tooele County where the therapy is offered.
To learn more about the therapy or to view a full list of places the therapy is offered, please visit coronavirus.utah,org.