Dr. Aldo Calvo, Medical Director of Family Medicine at Broward
Health, shows a Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion bag
during a news conference on August 19, 2021 at the Hospital in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida
Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Demand for COVID antibody drugs soars in
By Kelli Kennedy and Matthew Perrone
The Associated Press
August 31, 2021
People infected with COVID-19 were captured in a photo lying
on the floor in pain while waiting for antibody infusions at a
treatment site set up inside the library in Jacksonville,
The image has become a vivid illustration of the huge demand
for the once-neglected COVID-19 drugs in the states hit hardest
by a summer surge of infections being driven by the highly
contagious delta variant.
"They were moaning and obviously in a lot of pain. They were
miserable," said Louie Lopez, who shot the photograph as he
waited for more than two hours to receive the treatment.
Antibody treatments remain one of a handful of therapies that
can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19, and they are the only
option available to people with mild-to-moderate cases who
arenít yet in the hospital.
They have risen in demand in states seeing a spike in
infections, including Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, where
hospitalizations among the unvaccinated are overwhelming the
White House officials reported recently that federal
shipments of the drugs increased five-fold in July to nearly
110,000 doses, with the vast majority going to states with low
"They are safe, they are free, they keep people out of the
hospital and help keep them alive," said Dr. Marcella
Nunez-Smith, a senior adviser to the White Houseís COVID-19
The main drug in use is Regeneronís dual-antibody cocktail,
which has been purchased in mass quantities by the U.S.
government. Itís the same drug former President Donald Trump
received when he was hospitalized with COVID-19 last October.
The drugs are laboratory-made versions of virus-blocking
antibodies that help fight off infections. The treatments help
the patient by supplying concentrated doses of one or two
The drugs are only recommended for people at the highest risk
of progressing to severe COVID-19, but regulators have slowly
broadened who can qualify. The list of conditions now includes
older age, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy, and more
than a half-dozen other issues.
With expanded eligibility and skyrocketing caseloads across
the country, more people are getting the treatments.
Texas governor Greg Abbott, who in mid-August tested positive
for the virus and himself received the treatments, said nine
state-run COVID-19 antibody infusion centers opened in August.
At least 140 providers across Texas are offering the antibodies
treatment, his office said.
In Florida last month, where more than 20,000 people a day on
average had been testing positive for the virus, the rising
demand created a scene at the Jacksonville center that resembled
an overwhelmed emergency room.
At one point, Lopez said staff brought out paper hospital
gowns and covered a woman on the floor. It took more than half
an hour for staff to bring out enough wheelchairs for people to
"They poured them into the wheelchairs," he said. "They were
just so sick."
After the photo was published, Florida health officials said
they had increased the number of wheelchairs at the facility.
They also said it is open seven days a week and has plenty of
cots, as well as ambulances on standby to transfer the sickest
patients to the hospital.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis said during a news conference
that the woman in the photo is fine and feeling great after the
"None of our sites are having a capacity issue," said Weesam
Khoury, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health. "We
have the resources and if we need more we can quickly get them."
But she cautioned, "This is a site where people are going to
be very ill."
Thatís why state health officials are urging patients who
test positive for COVID to get the antibody treatment
immediately instead of waiting until they are extremely sick,
which many patients are doing.
Florida in about a week last month set up about a dozen
monoclonal antibody clinics typically serving 300 patients per
day, with an online portal for appointments, and plans to stand
up more, while DeSantis travelled around the state to promote
Getting the drugs involves a number of steps.
A positive test for COVID-19 is required, which must be
reviewed by a physician or health professional. They then decide
whether to recommend an antibody treatment for the patient,
which usually means scheduling an appointment at a local
To be effective, the drugs are supposed to be given within 10
days of initial symptoms. Thatís the timeframe in which they
have been shown to cut rates of hospitalization and death by
Medical experts agreed that the drugs should not be seen as
the first line of defense against the virus or a substitute for
wearing a mask and getting vaccinated.
"I see the monoclonal antibodies as a short-term bridge to
get us to the point where enough people are fully vaccinated,"
said Dr. James Cutrell of the University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center in Dallas. "We definitely need to keep
vaccinating as many people as possible."
Joyce Wachsmuth, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and her husband
were infected with COVID-19 in January. A breast cancer
survivor, she had never felt so much pain.
"I actually thought to myself if 10 days of this is what
COVID people go through, I donít know if I want to live," she
When doctors at the local Mayo Clinic told the 67-year-old
that she and her 70-year-old husband were prime candidates for
experimental drug treatment, she jumped at the opportunity.
She said she felt relief just two hours after the one-hour,
"It did wonders. It kept us off the hospital and off the
ventilators," said Wachsmuth, who has since been vaccinated.
The federal government has been distributing monoclonal
antibody drugs to states since last winter but the treatments
were underused due to lack of awareness by physicians, low
interest among the public, and the logistics of setting up areas
to give them to patients via IV infusion.
Also, persistent testing delays meant many people didnít even
get their results for seven days or longer, and clinics were
focused on the upcoming vaccines or managing the winter surge of
Since then, many cities have set up alternative locations to
administer the drugs and offer vaccines. The treatments are free
for most patients, largely because the federal government has
been actively involved in securing and distributing them.
"There was less urgency at that time ó the important thing
was to get people vaccinated to crush the curve," said Dr.
Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins University. "But the delta
variant has changed the equation."
Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to