People who test positive for covid-19 should ask their health care providers about receiving monoclonal antibody treatment as soon as they are diagnosed, UPMC doctors said Wednesday.
“Earlier is better. It is important for high-risk patients,” said Dr. Meredith Chuk, allocation, distribution and administration lead for the federal department of Health and Human Services.
Chuk joined UPMC doctors for a virtual briefing Wednesday where they made a renewed push for people to ask for and receive the treatment, which provides an infusion of antibodies to people fighting covid. The treatment has shown to decrease the risk of hospitalization and death, Chuk and the UPMC doctors said.
In clinical trials, Chuck said for every 21 people who receive the treatment, one will be hospitalized and for every 52 people, one will die of the disease.
“Those are really encouraging numbers,” UPMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Don Yealy said.
The treatment is given to people who have a high-risk of developing complications from covid. Expanded federal guidelines now make it available to most people, including those who are only slightly overweight, smokers, those with lung conditions or respiratory problems and other common health issues.
UPMC offers it at 46 locations throughout its system and is partnering with Heritage Valley Health System in Beaver County to make the treatment more widely available.
The treatment provides the antibodies people need to fight covid faster than they could without receiving them, said Tami Minnier, UPMC’s chief quality officer.
“Even if your symptoms are mild, ask about monoclonal antibodies,” Minnier said.
It’s especially important for those who have cancer or are otherwise immunocompromised, said Dr. Steven Evans, a surgical oncologist with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
UPMC has worked to make the treatment more available to Blacks and other minorities, Evans said.
The treatment, coupled with the covid-19 vaccines, are part of the keys to ending the pandemic, the doctors said.
“In our eyes, the vaccines are working as advertised,” Yealy said, noting they weren’t developed to eliminate covid, but to limit the severity of the disease for those who get it.
Monoclonal antibody treatment is one example of how UPMC is “learning while doing” during the course of the pandemic, to treat patients in the best way they can while also learning how to improve treatments, Yealy said.
There are continued studies about the two different antibody treatments that are being used to find out if one works better than the other and why, he said.
The same approach has been used with covid treatments including using steroids and blood thinners on patients, Yealy said.
Treatment with the antibodies has few risks, Yealy and Chuk said.
“Most side effects are infusion-related reactions,” Chuk said, adding they are rare.
UPMC has administered nearly 2,800 doses and no severe reactions have been documented, Yealy said.
“They look to be very, very safe for virtually everyone,” he said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .