In August, Florida launched the first mobile unit to provide monoclonal antibody treatments for coronavirus patients. Governor Ron De Santis touted it as an “early treatment for keeping people out of the hospital and reducing mortality.”
There are now 21 clinics around the state, including two in South Florida — in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. And more than 40,000 Floridians have received monoclonal antibody treatments.
But many people are still unfamiliar with the treatment, how it works and who is eligible. So we asked
Dr. Eneida Roldan, CEO of the FIU HealthCare Network, to answer some frequently asked questions about monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19.
What is monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19?
A post-exposure treatment that uses monoclonal antibodies to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death in high-risk* patients who have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
They are similar to the antibodies produced by your immune system to fight infection, but they are mass-produced in labs, sometimes using the antibodies of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 infection.
Is it safe?
In November of 2020, the Federal Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization approving monoclonal antibodies to treat mild to moderate COVID-19. It is not for use in cases of severe illness or hospitalization. The FDA said that “when used to treat COVID-19 for the authorized population, the known and potential benefits of these antibodies outweigh the known and potential risks."
How does it work?
The treatment blocks spike proteins, those spikes that protrude from the outside of coronaviruses, preventing them from entering and infecting cells.
How is it administered?
It can be administered intravenously or by injection.
Who is eligible?
Anyone 12 years of age or older who has contracted or been exposed to COVID-19. You are eligible for the treatment whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated.
Also, anyone with a high risk for severe illness. This includes people over 65 years of age and/or with certain medical conditions, including (but not limited to):
- Chronic lung or kidney disease
- Neurological conditions
- Diabetes ( Type 1 or Type 2)
- Weakened immune system
- Heart conditions
*You can access the Centers for Disease Control list of high-risk individuals here.
Are there side effects?
The FDA reports possible side effects, including anaphylaxis and infusion-related reactions, fever, chills, hives, itching and flushing.
Do I need a prescription?
No. Referrals are not required at any of the State of Florida monoclonal antibody treatment sites.
How much does it cost?
There is NO cost to patients at any of the State of Florida monoclonal antibody treatment sites.
How do I make an appointment?
The State of Florida has a website where you can register for treatment and make appointments.
When should I get the treatment?
The sooner, the better. The treatment is most effective when given early and must be administered before the onset of severe illness.
Does it work?
According to the FDA, clinical trials show that Regeneron Pharmaceutical’s monoclonal cocktail, a combination of two antibodies called casirivimab and imdevimab, reduces COVID-19-related hospitalization or deaths in high-risk patients by about 70%. Regeneron is the type of treatment available at State of Florida locations.
Roldan notes that although monoclonal antibody therapy can be very effective in early cases, it is not a replacement for vaccination.
“Vaccines are still our frontline weapons in the fight against COVID-19, and I urge everyone who can to get vaccinated,” she said.
However, the CDC warns that if you are treated with monoclonal antibodies, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.