New area eligibility for high-demand COVID prevention drug

COVID cases are again starting to surge in our area. But for the people who are most vulnerable, there’s a hard-to-get drug that could offer a lot of protection.

It’s a drug called Evusheld that gets antibodies into your system without the vaccine, and is intended for people who are immunosuppressed.

The drug has been in high demand ever since it came on the market. Cancer survivor Rebecca Relyea of Bellevue had to participate in a lottery to get Evusheld at Fred Hutch back in February – and that’s after her husband checked around to about 10 hospitals in the area.

Now supply in the area is growing. It means more people are eligible to get the drug, and some who qualify might not even realize it.

Relyea says the drug helped bring her some peace of mind and returned some of her freedom.

“I was diagnosed with lymphoma last year,” Relyea said. Part of her cancer treatment included a drug that suppressed her immune system, so even though she got the COVID vaccine, it just didn’t work for her.

“I’ve had three shots with zero immune response,” Relyea said. This was happening last year when COVID was still in full swing.

“It was scary. Hearing you have cancer is always sort of terrifying anyway. But to add the pandemic on top of it – it was a lot,” she said. Relyea essentially had to go into lockdown. She and her husband canceled planned trips, and she didn’t even go out to the store.

“My world really got pretty narrow,” she said.

Her husband, Rob Relyea, helped her track down a dose at Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center in February. The hospital received the drug in January after drug creator AstraZeneca got emergency use authorization for Evusheld from the FDA at the end of December.

Clinical trials show it’s 77% effective at preventing COVID, and the protection lasts about 6 months.

“Evusheld has given me my life back,” Relyea said. “The efficacy isn’t quite as good as the vaccine, so it’s not like I can go maskless and go back into the world, but I have been able to go back to the grocery store,” she said.

Here’s how the drug is different from the COVID vaccine. The vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies that fight off the virus. People on certain medications or who have conditions that impact their immune system can’t generate that same response.

Evusheld includes two shots of two different lab-created antibodies that help fight off the virus, so your body doesn’t have to make the antibodies.

Dr. Catherine Liu is a physician at Fred Hutch who specializes in infectious diseases and vaccines.

At first, the drug was only for the most severely immunocompromised people. But now area supply is improving.

“As supply has increased, we’re also expanding it to some of our moderately immunosuppressed patient. Those who have solid tumors, who are getting chemotherapy as well, may also be potentially eligible,” Liu said.

Liu says it’s really important for people to talk to their doctors.

“This is really being driven by patients having discussions with their providers. So as requests come in, we request additional supply for the state,” Liu said. She reminds people that the drug is just one more tool.

“I don’t want this drug to provide a false sense of security, that you can get Evusheld and do whatever you want. People have different levels of immunosuppression and risk. It’s an additional tool that, when used in combination with everything else like vaccines and masking, it can help you stay safe,” Liu said.

Relyea says the drug has given her enough peace of mind to even take a trip to Hawaii.

“It just makes me feel so pleased there’s more supply,” she said. “It’s great because it gives people a little bit of freedom.”

Relyea’s husband actually created a website to help others find out where Evusheld is available. The site pulls federal data to track supply at hospitals around the country so people can know where to ask for a dose if they are eligible. The website also shows how many doses of the drug have been administered.

KIRO7 checked with UW Medicine, Kaiser Permanente and Swedish, who are all offering Evusheld to patients who qualify.