Monoclonal antibody therapy pilot program offers new COVID-19 treatment option for Health Center clients

November 3, 2021

Monoclonal antibody treatment (mAB) is a treatment option for COVID-19 that can help keep some people from getting very sick, going to the hospital, or dying. While mAB therapy outcomes have shown great promise for treating symptoms and preventing serious illness and death, because it is so new, the treatment is still not widely available or accessible to many people. That’s why, over the last month, a team of Health Center clinicians and staff worked to set up and launch a pilot program to offer mAB treatment to eligible Health Center patients at a drive-up location at the Multnomah County East County Health Center.

Not everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is eligible to receive mAB therapy. It is only available to people with mild to moderate symptoms who are considered high risk for severe illness, and it must be administered within 10 days of the onset of symptoms. People who are too sick, or who have been sick for longer than 10 days cannot receive it. The mAB pilot team screens all positive test results to identify which Health Center patients are eligible to receive the treatment. 

Once patients have been identified as eligible, they receive a phone call from Melissa Acevedo, LPN at East County. 

“I ask them how they’re feeling, do a phone evaluation to assess the severity of symptoms and make sure they’re not too sick,” said Acevedo. “Then we have a conversation about mAB — what it is and how it can help them.” 

Acevedo came up with an analogy to explain what antibodies are and how the treatment works. “I explain that when you get sick, your body produces antibodies to fight the infection. Think of antibodies like little soldiers fighting a war against the virus. Sometimes the soldiers get tired and your body gets tired too, so it can’t produce as many antibodies as you need. When you get mAB treatment it’s like getting extra soldiers to your body to help fight COVID,” said Acevedo. 

People who get the treatment are given four injections just under the skin in different places on their body. Then they’re monitored for one hour to make sure they don’t have an adverse reaction. “The time commitment can make some people hesitate, but I remind them that it’s worth it to make sure they don’t get worse and end up in the hospital. They know the hospitals are at full capacity and there’s no room. Most people I talk to agree to come get treated. Only two patients I’ve contacted so far have refused,” said Acevedo.

All of the patients who have received mAB therapy at East County so far have had positive outcomes. “None have been hospitalized  — that’s our main goal —  and when we follow up with them, they all have said they feel better, their symptoms are improving, and there have been no negative side effects,” said Acevedo. 

The mAB treatment is offered one day a week at East County Health Center. It is available to any Health Center primary care patient who is eligible to receive the treatment regardless of which clinic they normally visit.

Note: Monoclonal antibodies do not take the place of a COVID-19 vaccine. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent getting sick with COVID-19.