Health News


Doctors Deploy Antibody Drugs Against COVID-19 And Hope


More than 2,400 hospitals and related facilities have received their first doses of new drugs that are designed to keep mild to moderately ill COVID-19 patients out of the hospital. But it's not clear how much the drugs will help these patients – and whether the medicines will reduce the demand for hospital beds.

The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency authorization to two monoclonal antibody formulations – bamlanivimab, produced by Eli Lilly, and a two-antibody combination developed by Regeneron.

These drugs are supposed to prevent the coronavirus from invading cells. Instead of being a pill or a shot, these drugs are in the form of a liquid that must be infused intravenously — a process that takes two hours or more.

"Like everything in today's world during the pandemic, our biggest challenges are around staffing," says Dr. Peter Newcomer, chief clinical officer at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison.

He said his hospital is giving the drug after-hours in an infusion center, so infectious COVID-19 patients don't cross paths with cancer patients and other vulnerable people. A special plea went out for nurses to take on yet another shift, even as the hospital struggles with rising COVID-19 cases.

The hospital can initially handle eight patients a night. Newcomer says they started with three patients Tuesday evening.

"Our advertising to the community went out Monday and Tuesday so we're going to see more tonight, and fill up all those slots real soon," he predicts.

His hospital, together with a second hospital in Madison, got an initial allocation of 112 doses. If everyone who qualifies for this treatment asks for it – including people over 65 and those with underlying conditions such as obesity, kidney disease and immunodeficiency — the hospital will quickly run out of drugs. So, UW Health set up a system to identify people who would most likely benefit. Officials will randomly pick from that pool of applicants if there isn't enough medicine to go around.

"It's basically a lottery-type system with an allocation that is done as equitably as we can," Newcomer says. The hospital developed this strategy earlier in the year to cope with a shortage of another COVID-19 drug, remdesivir. But the shortages could be far more acute with the monoclonal antibodies since so many more people are potentially eligible for them.

Informed consent for this treatment includes telling patients that it's not clear just how well these drugs actually work. The National Institutes of Health put out treatment guidelines Nov. 18 saying there's simply not enough information to know if the Lilly drug is effective. The guidelines haven't been updated to address Regeneron's drug. Emergency use authorization doesn't assure that a new product is effective, but that its potential benefits are likely to outweigh the risks.

Company studies suggest that doctors have to treat 10 to 20 patients to avoid a single hospitalization. The federal government bought hundreds of thousands of doses of these drugs and is distributing them nationally. That means patients don't have to pay for the drugs, though they may be responsible for the cost of infusion, which can run into many hundreds of dollars, depending on how insurance companies cover the procedure.


African health minsters call for increased vigilance



The 70th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa opened this week as nations within Africa deal with possible resurgences in COVID-19 infections.

Minister Mikolo reiterated the group’s commitment to preserving the gains made in fighting the pandemic and stated it was crucial to fight complacency in observing COVID-19 preventive measures by strengthening communication and epidemiological surveillance.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, underscored the importance of bolstering prevention, notably as people travel or gather for end-of-year celebrations.

“As we observe cases surge in parts of Europe and the Americas, and an uptick in our regional daily cases graph, we cannot be complacent. We need to prepare for a resurgence, including scaling-up precautions in risky situations such as festive and elections-related gatherings.”

Over the past three weeks, many African countries have recorded a steady increase in COVID-19 cases. As of 22 November, 18 countries reported an increase of more than 20% in the previous seven days when compared with the last seven days.

South African Minister of Health Hon. Zweli Mkhize shared lessons from his country’s experience in fighting the virus. The Minister stressed the need for governments to develop quick, evidence-based decisions, address the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, and, as Minister Mikolo said, resist the urge to become complacent.

“Right now, we are going through this COVID-19 fatigue, both from communities who are tired of wearing masks and [observing physical] distancing. We also have health workers who have been [through] a heavy burden, and now the resurgence is coming they are also showing a lot of fatigue. These are the areas we need to keep focusing on,” said Minister Mkhize.



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