Health leaders recommend certain COVID-19 treatment be reserved for the unvaccinated

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:42 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Recipients of a life-saving COVID-19 treatment may soon have to be prioritized, with vaccinated people at the end of the list.

The Tennessee Department of Health said there are recommendations for this prioritization as the state may soon see a shortage in monoclonal antibody treatments.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is recommending patients who are unvaccinated or vaccinated, but immunocompromised be prioritized when receiving the monoclonal antibody treatment because those are the patients most at risk of serious illness and hospitalization.

While no Memphis hospitals are seeing a shortage in the treatment, Governor Bill Lee said word coming from the federal government is they may soon see it.

“My outcome of patients that have gotten the monoclonal antibodies is pretty fantastic,” Dr. Mark Castellaw said.

Castellaw is the medical director of Baptist Medical Group and has been recommending monoclonal antibodies to some of his COVID-19 positive patients for months.

Then, he became the patient after catching the virus while on vacation this summer.

“Without question, the next day I was dramatically better,” Castellaw said.

Castellaw was vaccinated when he got COVID-19, but doctors still recommended the treatment for him.

“People think well, you were vaccinated so the vaccine must have failed,” he said. “Well, it didn’t because all I had really was a head cold.”

“Remember, it’s not just for those who feel horrible or are sick and coughing because that doesn’t always predict who goes on to the more severe lung disease,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld. “Anyone who has it and is sick who has this infection, and is early on should look into this possibility.”

The National Institutes of Health said there is no shortage of the treatment currently, but logistical constraints may make it difficult for there to be enough of the treatment at one time to give to all eligible patients.

“We currently deliver about 7,000 doses of [monoclonal antibodies] a week,” Lee said. “We have not seen a reduction yet, but we have received communication we will see a reduction.”

In turn, the NIH recommends prioritizing those most at risk, which is considered the unvaccinated or those vaccinated but with immunocompromising conditions.

The Tennessee Department of Health echoed those recommendations, releasing this statement Tuesday to Action News 5:

“Our recommendation to monoclonal antibody providers or individual facilities across the state is if they need to prioritize distribution of the treatment, the NIH guidelines are the recommended approach for that prioritization, including prioritizing those who are most likely to be hospitalized. Ultimately, this comes down to providers’ clinical judgment to ensure those most at risk are receiving this treatment. Providers across the state continue to receive supply of the treatment; however, we do not have an update on allocation for this week.”

“It’s very different to say there’s a 24-year-old who was vaccinated three months ago versus a person who is 86 who was vaccinated in January,” Threlkeld said. “Those are two very different things and I’m hoping we’ll still be able to look at those things and take it into account.”

Both Threlkeld and Castellaw said they’ll continue to take a patient-by-patient approach.

To read about the current eligibility criteria set by the Tennessee Department of Health to receive monoclonal antibodies, click here.

Doctors said this treatment should not be considered a replacement for the vaccine, which they still consider the best protection against serious illness.

For a list of vaccination locations, click here.

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