WELLSBORO — UPMC Wellsboro is offering a new treatment option for COVID-19, the same as was given to former President Donald Trump.
The hospital began offering monoclonal antibody therapy at the beginning of the year, said clinician Melanie Purcell. The treatment cuts the risk of severe symptoms or death by nearly 70% and has been given to more than 1,000 UPMC patients.
Right now, it is an approved treatment for people with a positive COVID-19 test and who are age 65 or older or younger than 65 with a condition that puts them more at risk of severe illness, such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, asthma, respiratory disease and other conditions.
Monoclonal, which means “one copy,” refers to how copies of the COVID-19 antibodies seek out the coronavirus and block it from replicating in the body’s cells. The one-time IV infusion therapy is given on the hospital’s Same Day Surgery Unit and is being rolled out to all UPMC Emergency Departments as the therapy has become more available.
“We’re giving your body a one-up to beat COVID, really, before it can wreak havoc on your body,” Purcell said.
The treatment is most effective when given early, optimally within four to 10 days of a positive COVID-19 test. There are three types of monoclonal antibody therapies approved by the FDA.
The purpose of the treatment is to reduce the severity of the coronavirus so that people can recover at home, thereby freeing hospital beds for patients with other serious illnesses.
“Not everybody is getting the vaccine, and we know that the vaccine is not 100% effective,” Purcell said. “People are still getting sick with COVID and we want to keep our community as healthy as possible. This is one thing we can do to keep our community healthy. We have to use every tool that has been given to us.”
Monoclonal infusion treatments are performed in the closed observation section of Same Day Surgery at UPMC Wellsboro, following strict protocols for treating patients who are COVID-19 positive to minimize risk of exposure to other patients and staff.
It requires up to two hours to receive the vaccine, about one hour to complete the IV therapy and another hour to monitor the patient for side effects. Most side effects, Purcell said, are mild and are typical of the body’s normal reaction to an infection, such as chills or a rash.
The treatment is typically free, although patients should check with their insurance company. It is available to anyone.
“The great thing about this is you don’t have to be a UPMC patient. You don’t have to have UPMC insurance and you don’t need a UPMC doctor to get this,” Purcell said. “We want anyone who is eligible to get this medication.”
After receiving the infusion, patients continue to quarantine and recover at home.
Patients who want this therapy must have a doctor’s referral or can self-refer by calling 866-804-5251.
UPMC continues to offer vaccines locally. Individuals in the 1a group can register for a vaccine at vaccine.upmc.com and complete the e-form.