Monoclonal antibodies not a guarantee if you get the Omicron variant

Doctors urge vaccinations and booster shots
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 6:14 PM CST
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A medical infusion bag.
A medical infusion bag.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - People who already have COVID-19 or may contract the Omicron strain of the novel coronavirus should not bank on getting monoclonal antibodies as part of their treatment. The FDA has halted use of two previously authorized antibody treatments after finding they are not effective against the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Dr. Fred Lopez is an LSU Health New Orleans infectious diseases expert.

“Those two are the ones that are produced by Eli Lilly and Regeneron, respectively,” said Lopez.

Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created versions of antibodies made in the body to fight viruses.

About its decision, the FDA wrote in part, “Because data show these treatments are highly unlikely to be active against the omicron variant, which is circulating at a very high frequency throughout the United States, these treatments are not authorized for use in any U.S. states, territories, and jurisdictions at this time. In the future, if patients in certain geographic regions are likely to be infected or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments, then use of these treatments may be authorized in these regions.”

A third monoclonal antibody drug can be used to treat people sick with the Omicron variant says, Dr. Lopez

“There is, however, a third called Sotrovimab which is manufactured by Glaxo-SmithKline, and it has retained activity against Omicron and ideally that’s the monoclonal antibody preparation that should be used for treating high-risk patients that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 but who have mild-to-moderate illness, not requiring hospitalization,” said Lopez.

However, the problem is that Sotrovimab, the monoclonal antibody that is effective against the Omicron variant is in short supply.

“So, not everyone will have access to it, many places have had to go to prioritization criteria for the use of Sotrovimab because it’s in limited supply,” said Lopez.

In the Ochsner Health System, Dr. Sandra Kemmerly who is the medical director of hospital quality says they are not giving Sotrovimab to all patients.

“We’re using that to treat select patients,” said Kemmerly. “It’s in incredibly short supply throughout the United States and so we continue to monitor this very closely and give it to our highest risk patients for complications,” said Kemmerly.

And Lopez says, “The more at-risk you are for severe complications, hospitalizations or death the higher likelihood you are to receive Sotrovimab.”

Still, there are other therapeutics.

Lopez said, “Those would include Paxlovid and Molnupiravir also have Remdesivir which recently has been authorized for the use of treating high-risk patients who have mild to moderate illness who do not hospitalization.”

But he said the growing toolkit of drugs for COVID infection is not a substitute for being fully vaccinated and boosted.

“Absolutely not. The cornerstone to our approach to COVID-19 is vaccinations. We want to prevent illness, we want to prevent people from developing severe illness, we want to prevent hospitalizations, we want to prevent death and vaccination is a priority for being able to do that,” said Lopez.

He urged unvaccinated people to get vaccinated and advises everyone to wear masks.

Also, he said it is too early to declare that the pandemic is ending.

“There is still an awful lot of COVID-19 infections that are occurring, still numbers that exceed any wave, if you will, previously and with so many people who are unvaccinated who are not immune against Omicron we’re still going to be seeing a lot of infections even on the downside of this peak,” said Lopez.

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