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What you need to know about monoclonal antibody treatment in North Idaho

A new monoclonal antibody treatment center is preparing to open in Coeur d'Alene. Here's who qualifies for the treatment and when appointments will be available.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A new monoclonal antibody treatment center is opening next week at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in North Idaho. 

This therapy comes during a critical time in North Idaho's COVID-19 battle. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated crisis standards of care for hospitals in North Idaho Tuesday morning after a surge in COVID-19 cases left too few hospital beds and medical personnel to care for all the sick.

Crisis standards of care are guidelines that help healthcare providers in how to deliver the best possible care in a public health emergency. Nowhere in the state is the situation worse than in North Idaho, where a record number of COVID patients —  90% of whom are unvaccinated — are requiring more space and more care than at any time during the pandemic. 

"Our main intention here is to be able to take a lot of the pressure off of our local hospital," Heritage Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Peter Purrington said. "Kootenai Health has been a great partner, but they've been very overwhelmed in the last several months, with a lot of patients who are currently unvaccinated with severe symptoms and patients requiring a lot of intensive care."

Kootenai Health announced Wednesday the Department of Defense (DOD) is providing the hospital with 20 military medical personnel for at least the next five weeks to support their staff. Kootenai Health and the DOD held a press conference Wednesday, regarding their efforts as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients continues to climb in the state of Idaho.

Heritage Health in Coeur d'Alene is working in partnership with Northwest Specialty Hospital to begin offering the antibody therapy, which is designed to reduce the worst symptoms of COVID-19 and prevent hospitalization.

The treatment center is for those who are COVID positive with mild to moderate symptoms. The people this is aimed towards are those with risk factors such as diabetes, heart disease or anything that could lead them to develop a severe COVID case that requires hospitalization, Purrington added.

The official name of the treatment is REGENCOV therapy treatment.

"This particular treatment has been shown to avoid about 70% of hospitalizations when given in a rapid amount of time after a COVID diagnosis or symptoms present," he said.

It can only be offered to people who are 12 years old and up. In order to receive the antibody treatment, patients must be officially diagnosed with COVID-19 and have a referral to the clinic from a primary care provider licensed in Idaho. The referral is then transferred over to Heritage Health who will then contact the patient for an appointment. Monoclonal antibodies are free to patients and Purrington said there are little to no side effects. 

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This treatment was authorized in May 2021.

“This treatment has been shown to be most effective when patients receive it as soon as possible after testing positive for COVID-19,” he added. “It can help reduce severe symptoms and hospitalization.”  

Medical professionals say the treatment works by targeting the coronavirus spike protein, blocking the virus from entering your body's cells and stopping the infection from spreading.   

The goal is to treat approximately 45 patients a day. Initially, the treatments will be offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays by appointment only

The treatment is coming at a critical time in Idaho as hospitals are being overwhelmed by seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The state has activated “Crisis Standards of Care" for hospitals in the Panhandle, meaning hospital beds, medicine, and equipment such as ventilators may be given to those considered most likely to survive, not the most critical.

The antibody treatment is not a cure for COVID-19. Instead, it is a way to keep as many people out of the hospitals as possible. 

"This is not a replacement for the vaccine," he said. "The most important opportunity you can do is to get vaccinated."

It will also not prevent COVID-19 like the vaccine has been effective in doing. It only gives people who are recently diagnosed the chance of reducing their symptoms.