COVID-19 patients crowding antibody infusion clinics

Southern Illinois Healthcare is infusing around 90 COVID-19 patients a week with antibodies, officials said Wednesday, as many people in the region who have refused vaccination are willing to take antibody infusions once they get sick.

Fully vaccinated people are also eligible for antibody treatments, they added.

SIH has clinics in both Herrin and Harrisburg that are open 12 hours every weekday. In order to be treated with antibodies, patients must have referrals from their doctors.

Some other hospitals also appear ready to start infusing. Marshall Brown Hospital in Du Quoin said they will begin offering the procedures in early 2022.

If administered early in a person's illness, antibody infusions can keep a mild case of COVID-19 from becoming a severe case, said Dr. Sara Malone, chief medical officer. The infusions must be done within the first 10 days after symptoms first appear, she said, and people who are sick enough to be hospitalized don't qualify for the most part because it's too late.

Malone added that fully vaccinated people with breakthrough cases of COVID are also eligible for antibody treatment.

Antibody treatment does not shorten the isolation period associated with COVID-19, the doctors said.

The FDA approved antibody treatments for COVID in November. As of Wednesday, the SIH system has done 1,271 treatments, according to Lead Communications Coordinator Rosslind Rice.

The antibody drug is free, but SIH charges an administration fee that is frequently covered by insurance, Rice added. She added that SIH does not turn people away because of an inability to pay.

Susie O'Neill, Chief Nurse Executive of Oncology & Infusion Services, said SIH is aware that two of the three monoclonal antibody treatments currently available appear to be ineffective against the Omicron variant.

A third works - but that treatment is becoming scarce in places where Omicron is now the main cause of COVID, which is not southern Illinois as of yet.

O'Neill said SIH is working on that, and when a larger percentage of cases here are Omicron-based, they will switch over to the other treatment.

She urged patients who make appointments for antibody infusion to either keep them or call to cancel, so SIH can fill that slot with another patient.

Malone said she still recommends her patients get vaccinated, rather than wait to become sick and then choose an antibody treatment. Vaccines essentially cause the body to make its own antibodies, she said.