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Michigan expands use of monoclonal antibody therapy against COVID-19

Therapy can help reduce symptoms in patients and the risk of hospitalization and death 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that the state is working to expand the use of a medical intervention designed to significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. This involves additional doses of monoclonal antibodies being made available to providers and requests to providers to expand the number of infusion sites in the state. 

The announcement comes at a time when the CDC director has said that Michigan should go back into lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, something Whitmer is resisting. (See related story here.)

“We are using every mitigation strategy, every medication, and every treatment option to fight the virus here in Michigan,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “These antibody treatments could keep you out of the hospital and save your life, and my administration and I will continue working with the federal government to make sure we are using all the tools in our toolbox to keep you and your family safe and get back to normal sooner.” 

Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) are laboratory-produced molecules that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system’s attack on cells. mAb targets different parts of the virus and prevents it from bonding with cells in the body, effectively neutralizing it. Clinical trials have shown promising data that this therapy works for the treatment of COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe symptoms and/or hospitalization, including older Michiganders. To date, preliminary data suggests more than 6,600 Michiganders have received this treatment with 65 percent reporting feeling better with two days of treatment and less than 5% of them requiring hospitalization following treatment. 

“When administered to non-hospitalized patients within 10 days of symptom onset, monoclonal antibodies may reduce symptoms and the risk of hospitalizations and emergency room visits associated with the virus,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “Michiganders who contract COVID-19 should ask their health care providers about receiving this treatment and I urge providers to assess if their patients qualify. We have seen successful use of this therapy in long-term care facilities and even in home use by EMS providers. This therapy can help save the lives of more Michigan residents as we work to vaccinate 70% of Michiganders age 16 and older with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible.” 

“We have been treating patients with monoclonal antibodies over the last five months and we can attest to its success,” said Adnan Munkarah, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, Henry Ford Health System. “This treatment has the potential not only to help patients who are suffering from the severe effects of COVID-19, but also to ease the burden on our hospitals and caregivers. At the same time, we must stay vigilant by getting vaccinated and following the safety measures we have in place.” 

The therapy has been used successfully to help address COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the state and to treat patients at home. This has included a 33-patient nursing home in Wayland in January, a senior care facility in Cass County in December and a veteran’s home in Grand Rapids in December. In seven long-term care facility outbreaks, 120 vulnerable patients with high mortality rates were treated with mAb. Only three of those patients needed to be hospitalized with one death. 

Michigan was also one of the first states in the nation to issue an EMS protocol to allow paramedics to administer this medication to further increase access. In St. Clair County, Tri-Hospital EMS treated 50 patients at home over a nine-day period. The state is also using EMS to provide paratransit or ambulance transport to infusion clinics for patients who don’t have access to transportation.  

The therapy is administered through an intravenous infusion and is designed for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have mild to moderate symptoms. It is not intended for hospitalized patients. These treatments are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an Emergency Use Authorization. According to the FDA, mAb therapy is effective against the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, the predominant form of COVID currently seen in Michigan. 

The National Institutes of Health recently recommended that patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of worsening disease should be treated with combination therapy—either Lilly or Regeneron. 

Michigan continues to monitor and track patients within 14 days of COVID-19 antibody treatment administration to assess the impact of COVID-19 antibody treatments on the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate. Additionally, the state is now conducting follow-up phone interviews conducted by volunteer medical and pharmacy students to more effectively assess patient response to mAb. 

Additional information on monoclonal antibody therapy can be found at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Combating COVID website and Michigan.gov/COVIDTherapy

Michigan residents seeking more information about the COVID-19 vaccine can visit Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.       

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