If you have mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms and are at a high risk for it developing into severe illness, a treatment called monoclonal antibody therapy could be extremely effective to stop COVID-19 in its tracks and prevent it from progressing.
Monoclonal antibodies are copies of human antibodies, created in a lab, that bolster your immune system to fight off an illness. With COVID-19, monoclonal antibodies bind to COVID-19’s spike protein to neutralize the virus and fight off the infection. These monoclonal antibodies are infused into the body via an IV and then circulate through the blood to attack the virus. Monoclonal antibody therapy provides immediate (yet temporary) short-term immunity from COVID-19.
“This treatment is 70% effective in reducing rates of hospitalization and death, yet not many people know about it,” says Bruce Muma, M.D., CEO of Henry Ford Physician Network. “Among those who qualify for monoclonal antibody therapy, only 15% are getting the infusion. It isn’t widely known or understood, and people don’t know how effective it is—but it can save so many lives.”
Who Qualifies For Monoclonal Antibody Therapy?
- All adults ages 65 and older.
- Anyone who is pregnant.
- Children ages 12 to 17 with a body mass index (BMI) equal to or higher than 85% of children who are the same age and gender.
- Adults ages 18 and older with a BMI of 25 or greater.
- Anyone ages 12 and older with: diabetes, chronic kidney disease, a disease that weakens the immune system or a weakened immune system due to medication, cardiovascular disease (including congenital heart disease) or hypertension, chronic lung diseases, moderate to severe asthma, sickle cell disease, neurodevelopmental disorders (for example, cerebral palsy), genetic or metabolic syndromes and severe congenital anomalies, or regular use of medical technology (such as a feeding tube or a device that assists with breathing).
How Quickly Does Monoclonal Antibody Therapy Work?
The infusion itself takes about 20 to 25 minutes, but before leaving, you must wait for an hour so the medical staff can observe you and ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction. They will also observe your symptoms to see if the illness is progressing or diminishing.
“Patients are also watched carefully when they come in, because if they are sick enough to need hospitalization and oxygen, they are not a candidate for treatment,” says Dr. Muma. “So we’re watching patients carefully the whole time—when they arrive, when they are receiving the infusion, and afterward.”
In general, patients start to feel better within a couple of hours after the infusion. The sooner you get the treatment, the more effective it will be.
Is Monoclonal Antibody Therapy Safe?
Monoclonal antibody therapy is safe. It was discovered in the mid-1970s and brought to market in the mid-1990s.
“Now, there are more than 60 FDA-approved monoclonal antibody treatments for various diseases, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, and other infections,” says Dr. Muma. “This type of treatment has been a huge breakthrough in healthcare. It has allowed us to very effectively treat severe diseases. With some autoimmune diseases, monoclonal antibody therapy has produced a complete remission when past treatments would’ve never been able to do that.”
Can I Get Vaccinated After Having Monoclonal Antibody Therapy?
If you’ve had monoclonal antibody therapy, you must wait 90 days to get vaccinated.
“This is because the infused antibodies circulate in your system for a while, which might minimize the effect of the vaccine,” says Dr. Muma. “However, you can get monoclonal antibody therapy if you have already been vaccinated or if you contracted COVID-19 between vaccine doses. You just have to wait 90 days to get your second vaccine dose. Don’t worry—the second dose will still be effective, and you don’t have to start the vaccination process over again.”
While you should have some natural immunity from COVID-19 during this 90-day waiting period, continue to take precautions and follow the CDC’s guidelines: wear masks and practice social distancing to keep yourself and those around you safe.
Bruce Muma, M.D., is an internal medicine physician with Henry Ford Health. He is the CEO of Henry Ford Physician Network and is leading the expansion of the monoclonal antibody clinics at Henry Ford.