Monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 unnecessarily trended toward tribal affiliation just a couple of months ago. To many Coloradans and Americans, it was one of those conspiracy-theorist solutions to combating COVID precisely because it wasn’t a state-sponsored vaccine. It fell into the bin of castigated alternatives, such as the supposed “horse dewormer” Ivermectin — a 2015 Nobel Prize-winning, life-saving drug for humans suffering from myriad ailments, namely parasitic infections, like river blindness.
Fast forward two months, and Coloradans are more accepting of the utility of antibody treatment. Most noteworthy is Gov. Jared Polis’ explicit promotion over the past two weeks of the treatment — an IV infusion of laboratory-made proteins attaching to and entering human cells — as a key cog in combating COVID-19. Widely-cited studies show the treatment has a 70-80% chance of preventing severe COVID, reducing the risk of hospitalization and helping people — particularly in high-risk demographics — recover fully.
A reason cited for our state’s spike in cases now is that in colder weather, people spend more time inside, where the virus spreads more easily. Warmer southern states experienced their uptick in the summer when people went indoors to beat the heat. That prompted purportedly COVID-careless states Texas and Florida to pivot their COVID-19 approach to incorporate the treatment in late August and early September.
As our own state forecasts another COVID surge through the end of this year, Gov. Polis on Friday had a woman, Jill Lester, serve as a living, breathing poster child for the treatment. The governor was explicit in his view of the treatment, saying it plays an important role in easing Colorado’s hospital capacity which — like Florida in the hot summer — is creeping closer to full. Polis urged medical professionals to utilize the treatment while Lester served up a testimonial.
“The monoclonal infusion went very smoothly… and (I) fully recovered,” she said.
That’s dandy for all us Coloradans now. But just two-and-a-half months ago, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others publicly touted the treatment, many others didn’t. President Joe Biden’s administration was called out in an Aug. 20 article in the Washington Post — a publication not exactly unkind to Biden — for not getting the word out fast enough.
“For the administration, mum’s the word on monoclonal antibodies… which is wrong,” Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Post.
Indeed, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, leading maker of the treatment, said in that August article it was reaching fewer than 30% of eligible patients. Meanwhile, when Biden finally did address antibodies, it came as his administration seized control of supply in states like Florida to redistribute for the sake of “equity.”
Biden isn’t the only one to blame for the treatment’s lack of publicity. Some also point to the-jab-is-the-only-option mindset among some of the national media and other critics of the previous administration. The thinking goes that they may have been reluctant to promote the treatment after President Donald Trump had the infusion when he caught COVID last year. That was pre-2020 Election Day, when it wasn’t available to the public. Rather than highlight the fact that the treatment was the reason why Trump — an overweight, elderly man — bounced back so soon from his infection, many just played coy.
The governor deserves credit for his pivot on the treatment — which includes five mobile units deployed across Colorado and more than 150 providers — but there is a more resonant takeaway, too. Many other powerful influencers should be ashamed of how they soft-peddled the efficacy of this treatment until recently. Because, as some Colorado media have reported, patients — whether vaccinated or jab-hesitant — have been struggling to get the therapy for a while. In response, Polis issued an order Friday allowing Coloradans who qualify to refer themselves for antibody treatment. Previously, a doctor’s referral was needed.
“This treatment is too critical to our response to leave burdensome restrictions in place,” Polis said.
Also, starting today, any Coloradan with a positive test can also call the state, at 1-800-268-2926, to determine whether they are eligible to sign up for an appointment — if one’s available.
That’s amazing news for the 65% of Coloradans on the Western Slope who said in a recent survey they won’t get the jab — whether because they have an allergy to the vaccines, have pre-existing protection from natural infection or harbor religious qualms. It’s reassuring they now have another option.
The Denver Gazette editorial board