Monoclonal antibody treatment in short supply: Shared Health

A global shortage of a drug used to treat COVID-19 patients is being felt in Manitoba.

The monoclonal antibody treatment is one way the province is hoping to reduce serious outcomes caused by the disease, but officials say it is not a substitute for vaccination.

Jocelyn Michael-Gagne, 26, lives with ulcerative colitis and other underlying conditions. Early last week the triple-vaccinated Winnipegger was dealt another blow. She developed a bad cough and tested positive for COVID-19.

“I actually cried quite a bit,” said Michael-Gange. “I was very scared I was going to wind up in the hospital because I’m already so sick without COVID, so COVID on top of that – I didn’t know how my body would react.”

Michael-Gagne, who got her third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine just two days prior to symptom onset, said the ulcerative colitis she lives with flared up, she lost her sense of smell and taste and felt brain fog, describing her COVID symptoms as moderate to severe.

Just under seven days after Michael-Gagne first started feeling sick she was in a clinic receiving a one-time intravenous treatment she credits for helping keep her out of hospital.

“The fact that I didn’t even know about this was kind of shocking, but it was also a relief when I found about it,” Michael-Gagne said. “It won’t cure it but it’s going to help me stay out of the hospital.”

It is called monoclonal antibody treatment. It only became available in Manitoba Dec.20.

Michael-Gagne is one of just 150 Manitobans who’ve received it so far, in part because it’s only being offered to people who are either immunocompromised, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated who meet specific criteria.

But the treatment is also in short supply globally, including here in Manitoba.

“There are not that many doses of this in the province, and there’s one in particular called Sotrovimab which maintains its effectiveness against omicron,” said Dr. Marcia Anderson, public health lead of Manitoba’s First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

According to Shared Health, there are only 268 doses of Sotrovimab remaining in the province.

Approximately 215 additional doses have been allocated to First Nations communities in the province.

To qualify everyone must have a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms that began within the last seven days.

You must also meet one of the following criteria:

– You must be unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, have no prior history of a COVID-19 infection and be older than 40.

– Unvaccinated, partially vaccinated with no prior infection, between 18 and 40-years-old and have a serious health condition (diabetes, smoking, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease or cancer).

– 18 or older regardless of vaccination status or previous infection and immunocompromised due to a medical condition or treatment.

Dr. Anderson said First Nations people over 40 who have received two doses of a vaccine may also be eligible to receive the treatment if they have underlying conditions.

“There’s a robust process for people who might meet eligibility criteria and for that medication to be prescribed,” Anderson said. “There are pretty tight criteria on who can get it based on the studies and the evidence as well as our own data.”

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, an infectious disease expert, said while it’s proven to work the antibody treatment plays a limited role in the pandemic response.

“It is effective, it does reduce the risk of hospitalization in people who do get it,” said Lagacé-Wiens. “The idea is that these are almost a rescue therapy. That is what they are, they’re a rescue therapy. We should really be focusing still on making sure everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated and has all their boosters.”

Lagacé-Wiens said oral antivirals may play a bigger role if approved by Health Canada.

Michael-Gagne said if it wasn’t for her doctor’s office she wouldn’t have known about the antibody treatment in time for it to be effective.

Shared Health said the province is in discussions with the Public Health Agency of Canada to get more doses of the antibody treatment.

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