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Alabama’s shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments to be cut 30 percent

The treatment can cut a COVID patient’s need to be hospitalized by 70 percent.

Health care workers in a COVID-19 unit at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. (VIA UAB)

Due to an increase in demand in states with low vaccination rates, the federal government will be limiting the amount of monoclonal antibody shipments to Alabama and some other states. 

The life-saving COVID-19 treatment that can reduce the chance of hospitalization for someone with COVID-19 by 70 percent is in great demand, Alabama’s State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris explained during a Facebook Live discussion hosted by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.  

“We got a call this past Friday with the HHS, who let us know that Alabama and some other states are going to be on an allocation,” Harris said, referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “We don’t think providers are going to be able to order as much as they would like.” 

There are more than 200 providers throughout Alabama who can administer monoclonal antibody treatment. The state health department has been working to increase the number of providers who can administer the life-saving treatments as the more contagious delta variant continues to drive new cases statewide at a pace of around 4,000 newly reported cases daily. 

State hospitals are still feeling the strain of increasing numbers of very sick COVID patients. There were 60 fewer ICU beds statewide Thursday than patients needing that care, and 51 percent of all ICU patients had COVID-19, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. 

HHS said the change is needed due to “a substantial surge in the utilization of monoclonal antibody drugs, particularly in areas of the country with low vaccination rates,” according to a press release from the American Hospital Association. 

Although vaccinations have been increasing in recent weeks, Alabama still has the smallest percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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Health experts say being vaccinated is the best way to protect ones self and that relying instead of monoclonal antibody treatment is a risk that could result in serious illness or death. If the treatment isn’t given in time, the risk of being hospitalized increases. Of those hospitalized in Alabama on Thursday, 83 percent were unvaccinated, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. 

Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health sent out a notice to state providers on Wednesday alerting them of the change. He said providers will now only be able to order monoclonal antibody shipments once a week, and HHS will determine how much of each order will be shipped. 

“They estimated that most providers are probably going to get about 70 percent of what they had,” Harris said. “It’s a little hard to understand their explanation, because they say there’s not actually a product shortage, but they’re trying to make sure that any product that hasn’t been used that’s on the shelf here is getting used.” 

Harris said the hope is the supply matter will be resolved “in the next three or four weeks.” 

Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, a member of the Institute of Medicine and former U.S. Surgeon General, said during Thursday’s discussion that there may be COVID-19 patients who don’t know there’s a treatment for the virus, and encouraged them to seek out that treatment if their symptoms worsen. 

“We don’t want you to sit at home and not get the treatment because of this possible allocation,” Benjamin said. “They may change those allocations tomorrow…and in a place like Alabama  where we’re having more and more sick people, that’s where we need the medicine.” 

President Joe Biden in his speech Thursday outlining an expansive plan to boost vaccinations said his administration will also increase shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments. 

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“We’ve already distributed 1.4 million courses of these treatments to save lives and reduce the strain on hospitals,” Biden said. “Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll increase the average pace of shipment across the country of free monoclonal antibody treatments by another 50 percent.”

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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