SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There are more tools in the toolbox for health care workers when it comes to combating COVID-19.
While there’s been some positive results from new specific monoclonal antibody treatments, one Avera doctor says the best weapon against COVID-19 remains the same.
“Prevention is the best medicine,” Avera family physician and Regional Director of Clinical Quality Dr. Chad Thury said. “Wearing a mask, social distancing and not putting yourself in that situation where you can develop COVID is the best way to stay healthy.”
And the latest COVID-19 data trends continue to show a majority of people continue to follow prevention measures. As of Monday, South Dakota is reporting 4,613 active cases, 203 current hospitalizations and 1,667 deaths. The state hasn’t been below 4,000 active cases and 200 hospitalizations since September.
In an interview with KELOLAND News, Dr. Thury said Avera Health is doing “well” compared to a few months ago.
“It’s a good thing to see, especially coming out of the holiday season,” Dr. Thury. “We can’t let our foot off the brake. If we do that, we could be back to a similar situation like we were in November.”
As South Dakota enters Phase 1D of the vaccine rollout, Dr. Thury stressed the impact of vaccines for the population as a whole is still “going to take a number of months.”
The South Dakota Department of Health has said vaccine allocation remains around 11,000 doses per week. Until the allocation increases with ramped up production or more vaccines are approved, patience is required. South Dakota has administered 57,121 vaccine doses to 47,292 total persons as of Jan. 18.
“Vaccines will be rolling out and get to people as the allocation comes in,” Dr. Thury said. “For the rest of the winter at least and as we get to summer, it’s still going to be social distancing, wearing a mask and doing the things we’ve been talking about for the past 10 months.”
New COVID-19 treatments Bamlanivimab and Regeneron
What has changed in recent months for health systems like Avera, is utilizing, tracking and refining newly approved treatments like monoclonal antibodies. Avera started using Bamlanivimab, known as BAM, in mid-November shortly after the treatment received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Avera was participating in clinical studies for a similar product — Regeneron — since August, which also joined BAM as a monoclonal antibody treatment approved by the FDA.
Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) highlighted the treatments of BAM and Regeneron in her State of the State address last week. She called them an “innovative COVID-19 therapy” and she praised recent examples of the use of BAM in Wagner.
Dr. Thury didn’t know about the specifics around the BAM use in Wagner, but said Avera is tracking its own data on therapeutics used. He didn’t have any specific numbers measuring the impact, but he said the use of the BAM and Regeneron have correlated in a decrease in emergency room visits, hospitalizations and ICU admissions.
“We believe we are making an impact,” Dr. Thury said. “We believe they are effective and part of the strategy dealing with the COVID pandemic.”
According to Dr. Thury, the effectiveness of the monoclonal antibodies like BAM really depends on a couple of variables — how high-risk the patient is and how quickly can you get it to the patient.
Dr. Thury said health systems continue to study data to figure out the best clinical situation that makes it the most beneficial. Currently, only patients deemed high risk by certain criteria can use the treatment 7-10 days after symptoms.
While Dr. Thury stressed the treatments are “not a guarantee for every patient that they’re gonna have a great outcome” he added when high-risk patients can receive the treatment early, the benefit is often seen.
“It can certainly decrease the risk of patients ending up having to go to the emergency room, being admitted to the hospital, having severe respiratory illness to the point where they end up in the ICU,” Dr. Thury said.
BAM and Regeneron work in the same way as the body’s immune system, as the products after being infused into the body bind to the viral particles of the virus.
“It takes a while for our immune system to ramp up and start to produce antibodies,” Dr. Thury said. “Patients that have not started to create and develop that immune response tend to do better when they get these products.”
Just like any disease, getting a quick diagnosis followed by a quick treatment is most efficient.
“At Avera we can do that,” Dr. Thury said. “As long as we know a patient is symptomatic and they get to us in a short period of time, we can turn around that test quickly and get them for an infusion quickly as well.”
With time being a crucial factor, health officials don’t want people, especially those who are high risk, to shrug off potential symptoms.
“These treatments are going to be less effective if you’ve been sick for a week by the time you notify your provider,” Dr. Thury said adding people should not wait to get tested for COVID-19.