Oct 08, 2021 12:00 PM

COVID-19 vaccination is the best line of defense against the novel coronavirus. But if you’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19, you might be wondering how you can reduce your risk of becoming sicker. Depending on your age, health history, COVID-19 vaccination status, and how long you’ve had symptoms of COVID-19, you may qualify for a form of treatment for the disease called monoclonal antibody therapy.

Margaret, age 85, became infected with the virus before she had a chance to get vaccinated. Because of her age and health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, she was at risk for severe COVID-19. Her doctors recommended monoclonal antibody therapy within seven days after testing positive. After infusion, she still felt fatigued and suffered mild chills for a day or two, but within four days of treatment, her symptoms cleared up completely.

“The treatment was relatively new at that time, so I’m grateful my doctors recommended it,” Margaret says. “Though it’s hard to know for sure, I do think it’s likely that it kept me out of the hospital.”

Emily Spivak, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health, answers common questions about monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19.

What are monoclonal antibodies?

Our bodies naturally make antibodies to fight infections. However, if you haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine or had a previous COVID-19 infection, your body will not have antibodies designed to recognize a new virus like SARS-CoV-2. Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the body’s immune system to fight off COVID-19 infection,” Spivak says. These antibodies are given to people directly through an intravenous (IV) infusion.

How does monoclonal antibody therapy help?

Monoclonal antibody therapy is a way of treating COVID-19 for people who have tested positive, have had mild symptoms for seven days or less, and are at high risk for developing more serious symptoms.

The goal of this therapy is to help prevent hospitalizations, reduce viral loads, and lessen symptom severity. The FDA has authorized the emergency use of monoclonal antibody therapy for the treatment of COVID-19 under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for people 12 years of age or older.

“In multiple randomized controlled trials, high-risk outpatients with confirmed COVID-19 were 2 to 7% less likely to be hospitalized with severe COVID-19,” Spivak says.“This translates to these treated patients having a 70% to 80% reduced risk of hospitalization. The therapy does look to be highly effective if you give it to people at high risk of severe COVID-19 early in disease to prevent them from going to the hospital.”

Who should consider monoclonal antibody therapy?

Given that COVID-19 vaccination provides strong protection against severe disease and need for hospitalization, monoclonal antibody therapy is an option for high-risk patients with COVID-19 who are either not previously fully vaccinated, who are severely immunocompromised, or who remain at high risk for hospitalization or death, despite vaccination. Treatment is not effective for people who are already hospitalized or severely ill with COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies should not be considered a replacement for vaccination.

“While we have this treatment and it does help keep high-risk people out of the hospital, it doesn’t bring hospitalization rates down to zero,” Spivak says.“Some people will still be hospitalized for COVID-19. The most effective thing you can do is get vaccinated and to wear a mask.”

If you think you may qualify for monoclonal antibody therapy and want to ask about getting treatment, contact your health care provider.

monoclonal antibodies covid-19 vaccine

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