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West Virginia Preps Plans for COVID-19 Antibody Treatments as Feds Limit Supply

File Photo – James Hoyer

CHARLESTON — As hospitals in West Virginia fill up with unvaccinated people with severe COVID-19 infections, state officials are wanting to get monoclonal antibody treatments out quickly to blunt the run on hospitals.

But actions by federal officials could halt that plan before it starts.

State COVID-19 response officials and lawmakers announced this week a plan to be released Friday on using monoclonal antibody treatments to West Virginians who test positive for COVID-19 more quickly to stave off the worst effects of the virus, limiting the need for patients to be admitted to hospitals.

“The net of the whole thing is we try to continue to get everything we can to make sure we have the antibody (treatments),” said Gov. Jim Justice during his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

James Hoyer, leader of the state joint interagency vaccine task force, said state health officials have had a series of meetings working on the logistics pieces for how to better distribute mononclonal antibody treatments and the availability of the treatments.

“We’ll have more for you available for you Friday related to that,” Hoyer said. “We work right now to manage across the state. If there is a location or a hospital that doesn’t have the doses, we work across the health command and the interagency task force to help move doses where they need to be moved to.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mononclonal antibody treatments are antibodies made in a lab designed to recognize and fight COVID-19, giving someone infected with COVID the needed antibodies to avoid severe symptoms and hospitalization.

One of the known treatments is Regeneron, or REGEN-COV, a two-drug cocktail. Former president Donald Trump received Regeneron when he was infected with COVID in the fall of 2020. The treatments are administered by a transfusion. The treatment cannot be used on patients who are already hospitalized due to COVID. The Regeneron treatment can cost $1,250 per infusion, though the cost is covered by the federal government.

Just like the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines (the Pfizer vaccine received full approval last month), monoclonal antibody treatments are allowed under an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Only people who test positive for COVID-19 and have had symptoms for 10 days or less can be referred for treatment by a healthcare provider.

During a press conference Tuesday with members of the West Virginia Senate’s Republican caucus, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, first announced that state officials were working on a plan to better distribute monoclonal antibody treatments to take pressure off of hospitals.

According to the data made available by HHS on Wednesday, 4,800 out of 6,036 hospital beds are occupied in West Virginia hospitals, with 964 beds being taken up by COVID-19 patients. By percentage, 80% of the state’s hospital beds are in use, with 17% being used by COVID patients.

Out of a total 672 intensive care unit beds in West Virginia, 560 ICU beds are in use with 271 beds being patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms, leaving just 112 ICU beds left in the state. That comes to 83% of ICU beds in use in the state, with 42% of ICU beds in use for COVID-19 patients. Some hospitals are over their capacity, resulting in patients being sent to other hospitals with available beds.

However, the federal government may be clamping down on overuse of monoclonal antibody treatments in lieu of people getting vaccinated. According to Politico, HHS will be changing how much monoclonal antibody treatments they allocate to states.

Currently, the federal government makes 150,000 doses available to states each week on an as-needed basis. But heavy usage of the treatments in southern states hit hard by the delta COVID-19 variant during the summer have raised concerns that these states were taking up much of the supply.

Justice has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s management of the pandemic, including the lack of available booster shots for older residents and the immunocompromised.

“The Biden administration is cutting people off, because they think people are trying to short-hop and not follow his orders as far as getting everybody vaccinated,” Justice said. “This is getting to be more and more and more of a political food fight.”

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