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Unvaccinated Floridians embrace COVID-19 antibody treatment but so do the vaccinated

Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

It isn’t just people who are unvaccinated using Florida’s 25 monoclonal antibody treatment clinics, according to Florida officials.

About 45% of the more than 135,000 people who have received the COVID-19 treatment were fully vaccinated, state officials estimate. In parts of the state with higher vaccination rates, such as Miami-Dade County, the percentage has been as much as 60%.

But do vaccinated people with breakthrough cases and mild symptoms need to get monoclonal antibody treatment? The question of who should be prioritized is drawing debate in the medical community. The pricey drug cocktail is free to patients but costs taxpayers about $2,100 a dose.

Patients should talk with their doctor, but people who are fully vaccinated and otherwise healthy don’t benefit much from getting the treatment if they develop a breakthrough case of COVID-19, said Michael Teng a virologist at the University of South Florida.

Although people can still get sick, the COVID-19 vaccines have been highly effective in protecting against serious disease and hospitalization, he said.

“The monoclonal antibodies are not going to add too much to that protection,” Teng said. “If you are in a really high-risk group and it’s been a while since you have had your second dose of vaccine, that may be something to talk with your physician about, but generally speaking, it is not really going to do that much for normal, healthy people.”

 

The treatment is lifesaving for at-risk people who aren’t vaccinated, reducing the chance of hospitalization by as much as 70%, Teng said. People who are vaccinated but have conditions affecting their immune system, such as being in cancer treatment, also benefit immensely, he said.

Dr. Michael Cacciatore, chief medical officer of AdventHealth Medical Group, said he recommends everyone who is eligible get the treatment, regardless of their vaccination status. Thousands of patients have received the treatment through the hospital system without a single major allergic reaction, he said.

“If you have COVID and you’ve got symptoms, even if mild and you have significant other comorbidities, I would really think hard about getting that antibody infusion,” Cacciatore said.

Under the drug’s emergency authorization, people 12 and older who are at high risk of severe disease are eligible to receive the treatment if they have been infected with or exposed to COVID-19. Risk factors include being 65 years or older, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions and pregnancy. People who are overweight also qualify.

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