Bay Area doctors urge at-risk COVID-19 patients to seek antibody therapy

One of the few treatments for COVID-19 is becoming more widely available, but not everybody is aware of where and when to get the treatment and if they qualify.

President Donald Trump received the treatment, called monoclonal antibody therapy, during his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. But the treatment is also available to those in the Bay Area who may be susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19.

With many illnesses and infections, medicine is typically used after symptoms become severe. With COVID-19, once a patient has severe symptoms, it's too late for treatment with monoclonal antibodies. 

That's why when Christie O’Sullivan found out she had contracted the coronavirus, she took a proactive approach.

"I had been recently diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, so I was a little concerned about how my body was going to fight this off on its own," said O’Sullivan, who lives in Safety Harbor.

She said she got her positive test back on Thursday.

"I got in touch with my doctor and we started working on a vitamin regimen with antibiotics," she continued.

O’Sullivan also immediately looked for treatments and discovered she qualifies for monoclonal antibody therapy.

"The information’s out there but it’s really hard to put together for yourself, about whether or not it’s something that will benefit you or not," said O’Sullivan. "It’s hard to find where other people have done it. It just doesn’t seem to be something that people are talking about that much."

And the treatment happens to be time-sensitive.

"We’re asking that folks come in within the onset of 10 days of their symptoms – the earlier the better. Most of the folks we’re infusing are feeling better within 24 hours. Some, 24 to 48 hours," said Dr. Michael Longley, the chief medical officer at AdventHealth Pinellas.

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Monoclonal antibodies are approved for emergency use and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website where you can find out where local shipments are going.

However, you have to get a doctor’s referral for the treatment

"I think it’s a matter of people talking to their doctor and being aware that this is out there for them because it wasn’t something that was common knowledge to me. It wasn’t even something that was common knowledge to my doctor until I let her know," said O’Sullivan.

While the process wasn’t easy, having a potentially life-saving treatment is worth every effort.

"So it does take some amount of finagling to get the orders passed back and forth for where you’re going to have the treatment done and your doctor to sign off on it. When you get through that process, then you can set up an appointment," added O’Sullivan, whose appointment is Tuesday. "I want all the tools to fight it. I want everybody to have all the tools to fight it."

The monoclonal antibody therapy is recommended for people who are over 65 or have other risk factors.

LINKS: Monoclonal antibody therapy is available in the Bay Area at Bardmoor Emergency Center in Largo and Sarasota Memorial Hospital.