They Shunned COVID Vaccines but Embraced Antibody Treatment

Championed by doctors and conservative radio hosts alike, monoclonal antibodies for COVID are in high demand — even from those who don’t want a vaccine.

By Benjamin Mueller
Saturday, September 18, 2021


Lanson Jones did not think that the coronavirus would come for him. An avid tennis player in Houston who had not caught so much as a cold during the pandemic, he had refused a vaccine because he worried that it would spoil his streak of good health.

But contracting Covid shattered his faith in his body’s defenses — so much so that Mr. Jones, nose clogged and appetite vanished, began hunting for anything to spare himself a nightmarish illness.

The answer turned out to be monoclonal antibodies, a year-old, laboratory-created drug no less experimental than the vaccine. In a glass-walled enclosure at Houston Methodist Hospital this month, Mr. Jones, 65, became one of more than a million patients, including Donald J. Trump and Joe Rogan, to receive an antibody infusion as the virus has battered the United States.

Vaccine-resistant Americans are turning to the treatment with a zeal that has, at times, mystified their doctors, chasing down lengthy infusions after rejecting vaccines that cost one-hundredth as much. Orders have exploded so quickly this summer — to 168,000 doses per week in late August, up from 27,000 in July — that the Biden administration warned states this week of a dwindling national supply.

The federal government, which was already covering the cost of the treatment — currently about $2,100 per dose — has now taken over its distribution as well. For the coming weeks, the government has told states to expect scaled-back shipments because of the looming shortages.

With seven Southern states accounting for 70 percent of orders, the new process has unsettled some of their governors, who have made the antibody treatment central to their strategy for enduring a catastrophic wave of the Delta variant.

More supplies are on the way. The federal government bought 1.8 million more doses this week, expected to arrive in the fall and winter. But for now, some hospitals are uncertain of supplies, state health officials said, even as patients keep searching for doses.

“We have providers struggling to get the necessary product,” Kody Kinsley, who leads operations for North Carolina’s Covid-19 response, said in an interview. “I think what has happened is a classic logistics issue, where all of a sudden there’s much more demand.”

Amid a din of antivaccine falsehoods, monoclonal antibodies have become the rare coronavirus medicine to achieve near-universal acceptance. Championed by mainstream doctors and conservative radio hosts alike, the infusions have kept the country’s death toll — 2,000 per day and climbing — from soaring even higher.

And after months of work by President Biden and Southern governors to promote the treatments, they have won the affection of vaccine refusers who said that the terrors and uncertainties of actually getting Covid had made them desperate for an antidote.

“The people you love, you trust, nobody said anything negative about it,” Mr. Jones said of the antibody treatment. “And I’ve heard nothing but negative things about the side effects of the vaccine and how quickly it was developed.”

Some Republican governors have set up antibody clinics while opposing vaccine mandates, frustrating even some of the drugs’ strongest proponents. Raising vaccination rates, scientists said, would obviate the need for many of the costly antibody treatments in the first place. The infusions take about an hour and a half, including monitoring afterward, and require constant attention from nurses whom hard-hit states often cannot spare.

“It’s clogging up resources, it’s hard to give, and a vaccine is $20 and could prevent almost all of that,” said Dr. Christian Ramers, an infectious disease specialist and the chief of population health at Family Health Centers of San Diego, a community-based provider. Pushing antibodies while playing down vaccines, he said, was “like investing in car insurance without investing in brakes.”

The government-supplied monoclonal antibodies, made by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, have been shown to significantly shorten patients’ symptoms and reduce their risk of being hospitalized — by 70 percent, in the case of Regeneron’s antibody cocktail. The treatments, given in a single sitting, use lab-made copies of the antibodies that people generate naturally when fighting an infection.

Patients and doctors alike overlooked the treatments during the wintertime surge of infections. But hospitals and health centers have now ramped up their offerings, transforming dental clinics, mobile units and auditoriums into infusion centers. In states like Texas, where elective surgeries have been postponed to make room for Covid-19 patients, operating room nurses have been enlisted to give infusions.

Read the full article on nytimes.com…