Cooper promises expanded access to COVID antibody treatment

CHARLOTTE — On the same day North Carolina hospitals reported a record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the state, Gov. Roy Cooper signaled he will take action expanding access to a potentially lifesaving treatment designed to keep people out of the hospital in the first place.

Monoclonal antibody therapy has been available through an FDA emergency use authorization since November of last year, but since NCDHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen mentioned the low usage of the treatment earlier this month, many doctors have seen an uptick in requests for it.

Until recently, the treatment was only offered at hospitals, but is now available at smaller local clinics like StarMed.

“We’ve been beating the drum for months now, since November of last year, that we do have a treatment,” said Dr. David Wohl, UNC Prof. of Medicine. “You have to jump through some hoops; it’s infused so we’ve got to get you an appointment, got to get you a chair in an infusion center and get this stuff into your body as soon as possible for it to work, but we’ve done it.”

After touring a drive-thru vaccine clinic in Nash County on Tuesday, Cooper said he would be signing an executive order expanding access to monoclonal antibody treatments. He did not expand on when, though.

The antibodies attach to the coronavirus when it enters the body and prevents it from invading new cells and replicating. The treatment is recommended for anyone who tests positive for COVID and is also at high risk of developing serious symptoms. That includes people who are only partially vaccinated or who have an underlying health condition, like high blood pressure or diabetes.

“We know that if people who test positive within 10 days of being symptomatic, then there’s a treatment of monoclonal antibodies that can hopefully really decrease the severity of the disease and prevent people from being in the hospital,” said Dr. Betsey Tilson, North Carolina’s state health director.

With more COVID-19 vaccinations, treatment and masking, Wohl said he would expect the tide to turn in the pandemic.

”We can cut down on the number of people who end up in the hospital; that is a tremendous relief,” Wohl said. “We have too many patients and we have too few staff. It’s a national crisis right now. People are working hard, they’re working long hours, they’re tired. It’s been a long pandemic and there’s a little bit of frustration because a lot of the people who are in the hospital and in the ICU, you know, didn’t have to be there.”

WTVD contributed to this article.

(WATCH BELOW: Monoclonal antibody treatment: What you need to know)