Mountain West states embrace monoclonal COVID treatment, despite the cost
With hospitals in the Mountain West overrun with COVID-19 patients, states are increasingly utilizing monoclonal antibody treatment to ease a seemingly endless public health crisis — one that could worsen with the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant.
In Colorado, the state’s health department is dispatching buses from Denver to Grand Junction and Colorado Springs to provide mobile therapy for people infected with COVID-19.
Idaho has created several partnerships with hospitals to expand its monoclonal antibody treatments across the state in recent months.
Providers in Utah, meanwhile, have administered more than 7,000 treatments to patients over the last year, according to Michelle Hoffman, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. She estimated the therapy has prevented 900 hospitalizations.
Monoclonal antibody treatment produces antibodies similar to those from the vaccine but unlike the vaccine, it is used after a patient contracts the virus. The therapy reduces the chance of severe illness and hospitalization by 70% in high-risk patients when administered at the onset of infection — and some vaccine skeptics appear more open to this treatment.
“When we think back a year and a half ago, we had so many fewer tools for saving lives that it's really important that we have this one,” said Jennifer Reich, who studies vaccine behavior at University of Colorado Denver and is author of “Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines.”
Reich said any tool that reduces the burden on health care workers, that makes room for people who are experiencing non-COVID related illnesses and emergencies, is “a benefit to us all and that's worth keeping in mind.”
But she warns this therapy is far from a panacea, especially given the treatment is “exquisitely expensive” — roughly $2,100 per dose.
The federal government is footing the bill for now but that is a time-limited solution.
That means tens of thousands of tax dollars are going to monoclonal antibody treatment when there is an alternative, preventative measure — the COVID-19 vaccine, which costs closer to $20 per person.
“Prevention is always a better way to spend health care dollars than is emergency treatment,” Reich said.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.