POCATELLO — While there were no COVID-19 treatments at the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Mark Mansfield now has a tool available through his clinic proven to reduce coronavirus hospitalizations and symptoms by 70 percent.
The problem Mansfield has encountered is that too many COVID-19 patients who could greatly benefit from monoclonal antibody treatments are still unaware of the option.
In East Idaho, Primary Care Specialists, where Mansfield works, is the only clinic currently offering monoclonal antibodies, which he emphasized are safe, simple to administer and fully covered by most insurance policies.
The clinic, located at 110 Vista Drive, will administer the treatment to COVID-19 patients either by appointment or on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday through Saturday. They also offer COVID-19 testing. Locally, Portneuf Medical Center also offers monoclonal antibodies.
According to the FDA, monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced molecules that act as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system’s attack on cells. Mansfield administers them through an IV. These synthetic antibodies must be administered within 10 days of a patient experiencing symptoms — Mansfield prefers to give the treatment within 48 to 72 hours of the first symptoms.
While it may take days to weeks for the human body to produce natural antibodies, monoclonal antibodies offer an immediate benefit.
“What’s shocking to me is how few people we are giving it to despite the fact that I’m seeing patients who come in for a follow-up but they’re beyond the 10 days, and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you get the monoclonal antibodies?’” Mansfield said, explaining many patients are getting tested via drive-through sites and aren’t being told about their options. “Patients aren’t totally aware. They need to be made aware this is an available treatment.”
Mansfield said a large chunk of the U.S. population would qualify to receive monoclonal antibodies due to any of several risk factors including: age greater than 65, body mass index greater than 25, pregnancy, kidney disease, diabetes, immunosuppression, heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic lung disease and neurodevelopment or genetic disorders.
Gov. Brad Little worked to get hospitals and clinics throughout the state to apply to offer the treatment after the FDA granted an emergency authorization. Mansfield said monoclonal antibodies have been used in chemotherapy treatments but weren’t used prior to the pandemic in primary care or for helping patients recover from infectious diseases.
He anticipates they’ll be used far more widely in the future and could, for example, provide a new tool for helping medical professionals cope with bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
“I think the technology is going to jump light years forward after all of this is over and we’re going to be using monoclonal antibodies for different viral infections and bacterial infections,” Mansfield said.
Though many in the community have been hesitant about getting vaccinated for COVID-19, Mansfield has found people are generally willing to accept a treatment, such as monoclonal antibodies, once they’re infected. He said monoclonal antibodies can even be used prophylactically.
COVID-19 cases have been surging recently throughout the country, due to the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant. The Department of Health and Human Services reported a record 147,000 U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations on Tuesday, though many patients were positive but had to be admitted for unrelated reasons. Furthermore, a record 1.34 million new COVID-19 cases were reported on Monday.
Locally, cases have also been on the rise. A long line of cars formed outside of the Eames Complex, 1999 Alvin Ricken Drive, during the Wednesday lunch break awaiting drive-through COVID-19 testing, run by Express Lab, through Southeastern Idaho Public Health.
SIPH Director Maggie Mann said several hundred people have been getting tested at the complex each day recently. She said it’s been taking a few days to get PCR test results back.
“Any time we see a spike in cases and symptomatic people, that drives up the demand for testing, so it stands to reason that, dependent on how big that spike is, it makes it take longer to get a result,” she said.
The service will bill insurances and the health district will cover the cost of testing for those who have no insurance.