After slow start, COVID-19 antibody treatments becoming more available in metro Atlanta

ATLANTA — COVID-19 patients call a therapy that makes you feel better within a day or two a godsend.

The FDA gave monoclonal antibodies emergency approval in November, but it’s just now that some hospitals are offering it as COVID-19 numbers spike.

“Just skull splitting headaches,” said Debra Denton, who needed help after contracting COVID-19 in December. The Cobb County resident wanted the monoclonal antibody therapy to ease her symptoms.

But she said no one in the metro area would give it to her. The hospitals said she needed a doctor’s referral. Her doctor sent her to the county, which sent her back to her doctor.

“It was shocking to me that I call my doctor for help and they offered nothing. My cousin started calling local hospitals. My husband called local hospitals. There was no acknowledgement by anyone that they had the monoclonal antibodies,” said Denton.

But hospitals like Piedmont had stockpiles of it with hundreds of doses. The problem was they had no place to administer it.

Piedmont quickly opened two sites where the operation could readily get up and running in existing spaces in Athens and Columbus. But in metro Atlanta, Piedmont had to create the space.

It took weeks to open a site at Piedmont Atlanta and another one in Stockbridge.

“You don’t want a symptomatic COVID patient going into your normal patient registration, waiting room. Hospitals that want to do this have to set up separate facilities,” said Scott McAuley, Piedmont Healthcare’s Pharmacy Executive Director.

But in Floyd County, patients started getting the hour long IV within days of the therapy’s emergency use approval in November.

“My job was to get this to our community as fast as possible. And our people made it happen,” said Dr. Dan Valancius, Floyd Medical Center’s Medical Director.

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Floyd Medical Center infuses 15 to 18 people a day. They treat six patients at a time, two to a room with at least three nurses on duty.

“Our numbers are probably on par in volume terms with major academic medical centers. I’ll go toe-to-toe with anybody in the nation,” said Dr. Valancius.

The FDA describes monoclonal antibodies as lab-made proteins that mimic your immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens like viruses.

The hope is this therapy will help the COVID infected enough to keep them out of the hospital where beds are already full.

“Honestly, I think that the number of cases that we’re having means that we’re not going to be able to infuse our way out of the pandemic. My goal is to help as many people as we can,” Valancius said.

To get the monoclonal antibodies, you must get a referral from a personal, ER or urgent care doctor. You must be age 65 or older or have underlying medical issues.

There also is a time limit of within ten days of symptoms showing up.

“Ask your doctor if you can get it. And if not, ask why not while you feel good,” said Denton.

Denton met all the criteria and finally got the therapy in Savannah. She started to feel better almost immediately.

“I could feel it overnight. Over the next few days my fever went down. And these antibodies just stopped the COVID virus,” said Denton.

Other patients also report feeling better within one or two days.

In January, Piedmont opened two sites in metro Atlanta and said with the amount of people signing up they expect to quickly run through their stockpile.

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