Antibody treatments going unused in Washington state

Some patients in Western Washington are raving about an experimental COVID-19 treatment that is still not widely used.

Eli Lilly’s product, bamlanivimab, and Regeneron’s cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab, received emergency use authorization in November.

AJ Kiser received the treatment in January after testing positive earlier in January.

“What are the chances someone with, you know, only one lung -- is going to come out the other side of this doing really well?”

Most of one lung was removed when AJ Kiser fought and survived cancer about eight years ago.

“Was there ever a moment where you really worried-- about being able to survive this?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“Absolutely,” she said. “That first day when I got the positive result, I basically had a panic attack, because I was not expecting to come down positive.”

How did it happen? She knew it was risky, but during the holiday season, she joined thousands of others in traveling to see family. Kiser said she took precautions.

“You know, wearing my mask everywhere and carrying sanitizer and that kind of stuff,” she said. “So it just shows that even if you’re really careful, you’re not really that protected, you know?”

As she started to feel symptoms, including a sore throat and runny nose, Kiser reached out to her doctor at Overlake Medical Center.

“I asked her, what can I do to prevent getting more sick and what can I do to get better quickly,” Kiser said.

Her doctor recommended bamlanivimab, designed for people with mild to moderate COVID-19.

People get it through an hour-long IV infusion and then another hour of observation.

“What were the next 24, 48 hours like?” Sheldon asked Kiser. “Did you start to feel better?”

“Actually, the next couple of days are when my-- the stomach issues were the worst,” she said. “So for me it was not an immediate relief. It did take a couple days to start feeling better. And I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation to the treatment, obviously, but I never got severe respiratory symptoms.”

Kiser isn’t the only one who saw success with bamlanivimab.

“You’re kind of supercharging your body with the antibodies,” Overlake nursing supervisor Gordy Fields said. “This is one of those things where it’s right out of a science fiction movie.”

Fields said his COVID-19 symptoms started with a typical sinus infection. But then came the chills.

“At one time, my wife thought I was having a seizure because I was just shaking so hard,” Fields said.

In the 24 hours after the treatment, he said, those chills went away. Fields started feeling better.

“The day that I could be around my family without my mask was Christmas morning,” he said, “and I got to hug my son for the first time in over 10 days. And it was the best Christmas because of that.”

But these antibody drugs aren’t for everybody.

“High-risk individuals are the ones that benefit the most,” Overlake emergency doctor Brandon Tudor said. “Those that are overweight, like have a BMI of 35 or higher, people with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and those over the age of 65, right there are at high risk of developing complications from Covid-19.”

There is also a 10-day window to get the antibody treatment. The clock starts ticking when you start to show symptoms.

“I’ve seen a number of patients that unfortunately came in outside of that window and were not able to receive it,” Tudor said.

The Eli Lilly product and another antibody drug from Regeneron received emergency use authorization in November.

In mid-December, Health Secretary Alex Azar said on CNBC, “We have a surplus of these monoclonal antibodies right now.”

So KIRO 7 wanted to find out if that was the case in Washington state.

New numbers from the Department of Health show that as of early January, the state received 2008 requests for the Eli Lilly product and 251 requests for the Regeneron product.

It sent those doses throughout the state. Hospital systems offering the treatment include Evergreen Health and Multicare as well as Overlake.

But it turns out, there was a lot more left. KIRO 7 discovered 5,852 doses of antibody treatments were allocated to Washington, leaving 3,593 doses ready to go.

“Why aren’t all hospitals here offering this treatment?” Sheldon asked Tudor.

Tudor said many people may not be aware of the treatment.

It can be tough for hospitals tight on staff. Some doctors at hospitals in our area said the treatments required too much additional work for overburdened healthcare workers and that the benefits are too uncertain. There are also requirements for where the treatments occur.

“The limitations of setting up a safe environment where patients can receive it and be monitored for that two-hour window,” Tudor explained.

Kiser said she still has some long-term symptoms, like extreme fatigue. But she said she would take the antibodies again.

“I think a lot of people don’t really know about it or feel like they might not have access to it so—I think that I would encourage anyone who is sick or high risk to really, try to get the information, see if they can qualify for it,” Kiser said.

If a patient is eligible for the treatment and interested in it, the best thing they can do is talk to their doctor and find out if it makes sense for their particular case.

Here’s more information on antibody products from the Washington Department of Health.