For the first time since the start of the pandemic, St. Charles Health System is offering a treatment to help people with mild to moderate COVID-19 fight off the disease and, hopefully, avoid hospitalization.
The treatment uses monoclonal antibodies to mimic the immune system’s natural antibodies, which fight back against harmful antigens such as viruses. Whereas the body takes time to produce natural antibodies, monoclonal antibody treatment allows a sick person to fight the virus earlier, which may prevent them from getting sicker and needing to be hospitalized.
Currently, monoclonal antibody treatment is only available to people who are at high risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, and they cannot self-refer themselves for the treatment. A physician must make the referral, and infusion would ideally be administered within three days of a positive COVID-19 test or within 10 days of symptom onset.
The potential benefits of the treatment are well worth navigating the logistical challenges, said Dr. Cynthia Maree, St. Charles’ Medical Director of Infectious Disease.
“Right now, this is the only medication we have that is approved under Emergency Use Authorization to be used for outpatient management of COVID-19,” she said. “It has the possibility of keeping people with COVID-19 from developing severe disease or from dying. Obviously, that’s something we want to be able to provide to the community.”
Caregivers from the St. Charles Bend Pulmonary Clinic are working in collaboration with nurses in Redmond, where the infusions are performed in an area away from other patients and visitors to protect vulnerable people. The health system worked to identify the right personnel to staff the clinic and provided training to ensure they were prepared to safely treat the patients, Maree said.
“We needed to figure out how to get people identified, referred, evaluated and scheduled pretty rapidly,” Maree said. “The therapies may change over time based on variants and which antibodies are recommended, but now that we have a process in place, we plan to continue offering this until something comes along that’s easier to administer or more effective.”
The clinic has treated its first patient and it went “very smoothly,” Maree said, thanks in large part to the St. Charles caregivers who worked hard to overcome logistical hurdles and bring monoclonal antibody treatments to Central Oregon.
“There was a gap in access to this treatment in our community, so we wanted to make sure to fill that gap,” Maree said. “We’re excited to be up and running and we’re looking forward to helping people get better.”
Click here to learn more about St. Charles Pulmonary Clinic’s monoclonal antibody treatments.